Almost every few weeks while excavating the foundations of a new building in Budapest workers find an old bomb from World War II. And they are big: half a ton, a ton, and this last one, two tons. Why have so many gargantuan old bombs suddenly surfaced? The reason, it seems, is that new office buildings and larger apartment houses must have underground garages, often consisting of several levels, which requires much deeper excavation. And it is very deep underground that these mega-bombs found their not quite final resting place.
Mind you, there must be many bombs still buried underground. Most of the bombing of Hungary during 1944-1945 was done by the Americans who apparently dropped more than 26,000 tons of bombs on the country. These bombings were often very intense, so-called carpet bombings. Sometimes 700-1,000 planes bombed day and night for weeks on end. Budapest suffered the most: the city was carpet bombed 37 times. On Csepel Island, where the Manfréd Weiss Works (a large industrial concern by that time in German hands) was situated, 248 half-ton bombs were dropped at one time. Apparently, the most heavily bombed areas were District I (the Castle District), II, and XII, all on the Buda side, and on the Pest side District IX, where this last mega-bomb was found.
About three weeks ago a half-ton bomb was discovered in District XIII (also known as Angyalföld). Seven thousand people had to be evacuated; clearing the area took almost six hours. The bomb turned out to be an American-made GP type of bomb that was apparently extremely dangerous to defuse. Yet people don’t realize the potential danger when such a bomb is found. Some refuse to leave their apartments. A lot of people start an argument with the police. They don’t understand why they have to leave when that good old bomb has been lying there for more than half a century and has done no harm. Then there are the old folks who can barely get out of bed.
This time the bomb was huge–two tons, and therefore 16,000 people had to be evacuated before the bomb squad dared to work on it. Over 100 people had to be carried out on stretchers. The oldest evacuee was 98. Two thousand people were over 70, and as a group they apparently didn’t take well to their forcible removal from their apartments to temporary shelters. I saw pictures of these shelters and I must say that they were elegant as far as shelters go. Nine ambulances transported those who were unable to leave on their own steam. Five ambulances stood by to assist the 800 people working on the project. It seemed to me that the organization was pretty decent.
Yet, as usual, people are dissatisfied. They complain that they were not individually notified after the bomb was unearthed that the evacuation would begin the next morning at 9 a.m. Of course, TV and radio stations as well as internet sites carried the story and the evacuation information, but for those who live in a media vacuum it was a huge surprise when police cars equipped with bullhorns arrived. Then the police knocked on doors, trying to convince reluctant people to move out. Well, by 4 o’clock in the afternoon the evacuation was complete and the bomb squad went to work only to find that somebody, most likely way back in 1945, had already defused the bomb. However, that couldn’t have been known beforehand because the head of the bomb, where the detonator is situated, was buried deep in the ground.
Echo and HirTV, two right-wing television stations, immediately found “experts” who announced that this bomb scare was a fiasco. After all, with a robot the bomb squad could have handled the whole thing and ultrasound would have been able to ascertain whether or not the bomb was dangerous. The head of the bomb squad very rightly pointed out that no robot could move a two-ton bomb. Moreover, the evacuation would have had to occur even if there were such robot because the bomb could have exploded, robot or no robot. As for ultrasound, he doesn’t know of any ultrasound equipment that could penetrate such a monster of a bomb.
Put it this way, it is better to be safe than sorry. If I lived near a two-ton bomb I would meekly follow police instructions, but I guess I have been acculturated differently in Canada and the U.S. I think the Hungarian people would be a great deal happier if they complained less and took things in stride.