Greek city evacuated to defuse WWII bomb

A man walks next to a gas station where an unexploded bomb dating back to World War II was found during work to expand a gas station's underground tanks in Thessaloniki, Greece, February 8, 2017.

More than 300 disabled people and bed-bound patients were the first to move out on Saturday morning, at the start of what is being described as the biggest peacetime evacuation in Greece's history.

Greek military personnel in the Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit began work on defusing the bomb at 11:30, about 90 minutes later than planned, but finished early, deactivating the device by noon. Police went house-to-house ringing bells and knocking on doors to remind people living within a 1.9km radius, mostly in the western suburb of Kordelio, to leave their homes.

The bomb was discovered during road works last week and is due to be disposed of on Sunday.

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During Sunday's evacuation, residents will be transported by bus to schools, sports halls and cultural centres elsewhere in the city while the exclusion zone is cordoned off.

A state of emergency has been declared in the three municipalities affected by the defusion operation, Thessaloniki's Deputy Governor Voula Patoulidou told the Associated Press. news agency.

"We heard on TV that, if the bomb explodes, it will be like a strong quake", Michalis Papanos, 71, said as he and his wife left their home.

The U.S. -made 275-pound (125-kilogram) bomb was "badly corroded, but its detonation mechanism was still in very good condition", said Army spokesman Col. Nikos Fanios.

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"We are afraid for the child", Bogdani said.

The city's main bus station was shut down, trains in the area were halted and churches cancelled their Sunday services. The visits were organised at the request of the refugees, many of whom are Syrians fleeing the civil war in the country.

The bomb was now going to be taken to an army firing range.

It is not yet known which side in the war dropped the bomb or when it fell, Phanios said.

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According to Greek media reports, the bomb was dropped by a British plane during air strikes on the city's nearby railway station and port in 1943.