German city clears out 45,000 people before World War II bombs are defused

Sandbags frame a 1.8-ton WWII bomb in the Rhine River near Koblenz Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011.
Harald Tittel | AP
Sandbags frame a 1.8-ton WWII bomb in the Rhine River near Koblenz Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011.
Posted Dec. 04, 2011, at 8 p.m.
A defused WWII bomb sits in the Rhine River near Koblenz, Germany, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.
Harald Tittel | AP
A defused WWII bomb sits in the Rhine River near Koblenz, Germany, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.
Police guard an empty shopping street in downtown Koblenz, Germany, on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.
Harald Tittel | AP
Police guard an empty shopping street in downtown Koblenz, Germany, on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.

KOBLENZ, Germany — Bomb disposal on Sunday experts safely defused two huge World War II bombs found on the bottom of the Rhine River, after 45,000 people left the area as a precaution.

It was the biggest evacuation ever in Germany because of an unexploded World War II bomb.

‘We’re very relieved,’ said fire brigade spokesman Manfred Morschhaeuser.

The center of the western German city was emptied, with everyone within 1.1 miles of the bombs ordered out, including jail prisoners. About 1,000 officials went from house to house checking that everyone was gone.

The biggest bomb, a 1.8-ton British device, was recently spotted when the water level sank in the Rhine. A rusty, smaller U.S. bomb was then found nearby. An unexploded smokescreen canister near the bombs was safely detonated during Sunday’s operation.

Koblenz was heavily bombed by the Allies during the war because it is a major transportation hub junction and had main army bases.

Almost half the city’s population of 106,000 had to leave. Most evacuees went to relatives’ homes. Seven schools in the suburbs were opened as shelters, but were only used by 330 people. Prisoners from a city jail were moved Friday to another prison.

To get at the bombs, a ring of 350 one-ton sandbags were dumped in a circle around them in the river, and the bed was pumped dry within the ring so that bomb disposal experts could work remain dry while they worked.

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