Tuesday, October 24, 2006

War: the gift that keeps on giving

Every year, several farmers in France and Belgium are injured as they till the old battlefields of World War I. Unexploded ordinance -- shells with high explosive and poison gas -- are pushed up by the frost. Shell fuses were not too efficient in World War I, and there were many, many duds. And a bomb wasn't neutralized just because the fuse failed. The rest of the explosives still worked. A special unit of the French army collects old shells, grenades, land mines and other explosives, takes the stuff away and detonates it. This is one of the most dangerous jobs of the army in peacetime.
World War II ordinance seems to have been better. Most of it seems to have explosed when it was supposed to. However, in German cities, where huge air raids dropped millions of tons of bombs, the problem is expected to last another century:

FRANKFURT, Oct. 23 — More than six decades after the end of World War II, Germans still routinely come across unexploded bombs beneath farmers’ fields or city streets. Lately, there has been a skein of such dangerous discoveries, one with deadly consequences.

A highway worker was killed Monday when his cutting machine struck a World War II bomb beneath an autobahn southeast of Frankfurt.
On Monday morning, a highway worker was killed when his cutting machine struck a World War II bomb beneath a busy autobahn southeast of Frankfurt. The explosion ripped apart the vehicle and damaged several passing cars, wounding four other workers and a motorist.

Also on Monday, a weapons-removal squad defused a 500-pound bomb found next to a highway near Hanover, in the north. The police said it was a British aerial bomb, one of tens of thousands dropped on German roads, factories and cities during Allied bombing raids.

On Saturday, 1,000 people were evacuated from a town east of Berlin after a bomb was discovered. And last week, 22,000 people were evacuated from a district in Hanover after three bombs were discovered near a house. It was the second largest evacuation for a disposal operation since the end of the war.

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