Explosives experts have defused a large second world war bomb in the German city of Augsburg, clearing the way for thousands of evacuated residents to return and hold their Christmas celebrations at home.
City police tweeted that they had “good news at Christmas” just before 7pm local time (18.00 GMT). Before that, they had been unable to say how long residents would have to stay away due to the sensitive explosives work being done.
About 32,000 households with 54,000 residents in the city’s historic central district were forced to leave by 10am on Christmas morning so experts could handle the RAF bomb.
The evacuation was the single largest evacuation operation in Germany since the end of the war.
The bomb was uncovered last week during construction work in the city’s historic central district. Police said Christmas Day was the best time to defuse it because there was less traffic and it was more likely people could stay with relatives.
The evacuation began at about 8am on Christmas Day. The process involved up to 900 police officers and involved police vans with loudspeakers urging those affected to leave before the 10am deadline.
The evacuation area included the city’s Vincentinum hospital, where patients were transferred to other hospitals. Christmas morning services at the city’s medieval cathedral, famed for its boys’ choir, were also moved to another church. Schools and sports facilities were opened as shelters.
The bomb, known as a blockbuster, was the largest of its kind dropped by the RAF during aerial attacks on Germany in the second world war. It weighs 1.8 tonnes and, if exploded, could damage all buildings within a one-mile radius.
Augsburg was targeted in raids by the allied forces in February 1944. Large parts of the city were destroyed during attacks by hundreds of RAF and US fighters.
Unexploded ordnance is still found across Europe, with communities in the UK, France, Germany and beyond occasionally facing evacuation when bombs are discovered.
In 2011, 45,000 people were evacuated temporarily to remove a bomb in Koblenz, Germany. In February this year, the discovery of another unexploded second world war bomb in Victoria station, central London, forced the evacuation of the area. In May, a device was found under a school playground in in Bath, forcing hundreds of people to spend the night in a shelter set up at the city’s racecourse./The Guardian