LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.
The casualty toll from World War II rose this past week, in a sense. Three German workers were killed and six were injured while trying to defuse an 1,100-pound Allied bomb left over from the war. Unexploded ordnance is an ongoing problem for construction crews across Germany, especially in larger cities. It's estimated that more than 4,000 unexploded World War II bombs and explosives remain buried beneath Berlin alone.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT: The nine German bomb-disposal experts, men with years of experience, were working to defuse an old bomb found during construction of a sports arena. The police had already evacuated some 6,000 people in the town of Gottingen, when the 65-year-old aerial bomb exploded. Three of the men were killed instantly, six others were wounded, two severely.
Peter Bodes, the head of the Hamburg Ordnance Disposal Unit, told German public television that while old war bombs are common, fatalities are not.
Mr. PETER BODES (Head, Hamburg Ordnance Disposal Unit): (Through Translator) Accidents happen, of course, but you always go out there thinking it won't be me, so it's just dreadful when something tragic like this happens.
WESTERVELT: Earlier this spring there was yet another disruption of Berlin's S-Bahn commuter train service. Only this time, Deutsche Bahn Management wasnt to blame. Instead, the culprit was a 500-pound World War II bomb. Berlin's Ostkreuz Station was temporarily closed and hundreds of nearby residents had to be evacuated.
Laila Quetera was waiting to be let back in to her apartment.
Ms. LAILA QUETERA: (Through Translator) The police simply announced to us that everybody must leave because a bomb is being deactivated. You just don't expect something like this to happen.
WESTERVELT: Each year in Germany, as spring and summer construction work expands, unexploded aerial bombs, hand grenades, artillery rounds and ammunition dumps rear their ugly heads. Last year, construction crews even found old explosives near the private apartment of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Berlin's City Hall requires all building companies to carry out bomb risk assessments of sites, and the city pays for the eventual removal of any Allied explosives found. The disposal of German-made ordnance is paid for not by the city but by the federal government. It all adds up to jobs security for those who make their living doing the dangerous work of bomb disposal.
Dr. TOM ALEXANDER (Engineer): We won't run out of bombs and ammunition. There are still massive amounts of ammunition in Berlin from the ground fighting and, of course, from the bombing.
WESTERVELT: That's Berlin bomb-finder and engineer Tom Alexander. He has a Ph.D. in biology but decided to takeover the family business founded by his father. His dad was a trained car mechanic but served as a Germany army explosives expert during the war. There were probably more bombs than cars around after the war, so his dad seized a business opportunity.
Alexander says it's just a guess how much unexploded ordnance is really left across Berlin.
Dr. ALEXANDER: Specially in the last days of the war when the Russians on the ground came closer to the city that all went into a big chaos. Nobody knows how many of these bombs got cleaned away or were just staying.
WESTERVELT: According to Berlin's City Hall, some 7,300 bombs have been detonated successfully in Berlin in the last 25 years. Berlin was bombarded by some 465,000 tons of explosives. It's estimated that one in eight bombs didnt go off. As the war ended, both the British Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force recorded the damage their bombs had inflicted across Germany, and those images are still paying off today.
Allan Williams and his team at the British government's Aerial Reconnaissance Archives in Edinburg, Scotland, spend their days pouring over aerial pictures of war-damaged Germany in 3D.
Mr. ALLAN WILLIAMS (Manager, Aerial Reconnaissance Archives, Scotland): It's quite surreal. Were able to identify images as showing bomb craters and many of the images show actual unexploded bombs on the ground. So, through our work, we're able to supply bomb disposal agencies in Germany on a daily basis with photographs of particular areas.
WESTERVELT: But Berlin's City Hall is reluctant to let people know where ordnance still lies beneath the city, for fear of panicking residents. Last summer, a dog walker had the fright of her life when her German shepherd dug up what looked like an odd bone. In fact, it was a live World War II hand grenade left by the U.S. Army. The bomb disposal unit was called, and the dog and its master walked on - carefully.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.
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