As a rule, it’s considered less than desirable to have a long-unexploded bomb buried deep in the ground near your property. Even less so when that property is a gas station.
Yet that’s precisely what residents in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, discovered last week. And it’s precisely why some 72,000 of them are scheduled to be evacuated from the city Sunday, as authorities seek to defuse and extricate the World War II-era weapon.
Reuters reports it is the largest peacetime evacuation in the country’s history.
Local authorities say the bomb — which was buried 16 feet deep, according to The Associated Press — was uncovered by a gas company crew that had been working on the station’s underground tanks. Though local and international media reports vary, the bomb is believed to be between 150 and 250 kilograms — roughly the size of weapons commonly dropped by bombers during the war.
The weapon is “ordinary” and fairly familiar to the group preparing to defuse it, officials say. The defusal unit has already “deactivated dozens of similar bombs found at Thessaloniki’s Macedonia international airport, along the [Trans Adriatic Pipeline] route and other areas,” according to the Athens-Macedonia News Agency.
During World War II, as well as the Greek Civil War that directly followed, combatants considered the major port city of Thessaloniki a position of strategic importance.
The deputy regional governor, Voula Patoulidou, says officials are taking every possible precaution.
A significantly smaller evacuation, which involved several hundred people last Friday, was called off after officials realized it would not be sufficient. On Tuesday they finalized a new plan, which covers everyone living within a range of 1.2 miles around the bomb — including 62,000 people in Kordelio-Evosmos, in the northwest of Thessaloniki, and another 10,000 from a nearby neighborhood, the AMNA reports.
While the defusal efforts are underway in the evacuation area, the Greek news service says all gas stations there are expected to empty their tanks, all business activity will be halted and the entire area will be covered under a state of emergency.
Officials aim to complete the defusal by 10 a.m. local time Sunday. Reuters reports they will be mobilizing about 100 buses and vans to remove residents to local gymnasiums, stadiums and cafes while they wait.