Idyllic Alps Village On WWII Bomb Dump May Explode

Story By: Koen Berghuis, Sub Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Central European News

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Picture Credit: CEN

This idyllic alpine village could be blown sky high for the second time at any moment as it teeters dangerously atop an ammunition dump packed with explosives, experts claim.

Residents of the village of Mitholz, in the Canton of Bern in Switzerland, which was partly destroyed in the previous explosion, are being warned their lives and homes are in danger.

The ammunition dump, under a 100-metre (330-foot) cliff overlooking the Alpine village, blew up in December 1947, in a series of huge explosions, destroying half the village and killing nine people.

But an estimated 3,500 tonnes of ammunition and several hundred tonnes of explosives are still intact in the remains of the depot and further explosions are inevitable according to experts.

A new report, carried out by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment with help from German experts at the Fraunhofer Institute for Short-Term Dynamics, spells out the dangers.

It says a “small explosion” equivalent to one tonne of TNT is likely every 300 years – and a bigger explosion with an explosive power of 10 tonnes of TNT could happen every 3,000 years.

The report concluded the risks were unacceptable for the population of Mitholz, and nearby villages, as the cliff and the buildings below it could be destroyed.

The Swiss Defence Ministry has reached the same conclusion and is now searching for ways to make safe the underground ammunition depot.

The depot is currently being monitored around the clock with CCTV and thermal cameras, as well as sensors which can detect gases escaping from the depot.

The first explosion is believed to have been caused by a chemical reaction in an igniter which triggered a chain reaction.

The Defence Ministry is investigating whether the ammo and explosives can be safely removed using robots or a remote-controlled excavator.

The Ministry announced that a prototype for such an excavator could be ready within one to two years.

But local residents and politicians are demanding immediate action to remove the threat.

Jurg Grossen, an MP for the Green Liberal Party of Switzerland (GLP), said: “Concrete plans have to be put on the table.

“If this danger existed in a more populated area, they would surely have moved faster than they have done in Mitholz.”

Switzerland was neutral during World War II but stockpiled arms in the Swiss Alps in a strategy aimed at deterring a possible German invasion.

Koen Berghuis

Editor of DACHS / Benelux desk for Central European News, roving correspondent with a penchant for travel, culture, geopolitics, history and the in-depth story behind the headlines.

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