Bomb cache find leads to evacuation on Sasebo
May 10, 2006
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — About 350 people were evacuated and several buildings and facilities closed Monday after Japanese construction crews unearthed an unexploded ordnance cache during a construction dig.
The ordnance, about two-dozen cone-shaped shells, were believed to be left over from the Japanese Imperial Navy before the U.S. military took over the base.
Construction workers were digging up a parking lot behind McDonald’s around 2:30 p.m. when they uncovered a concrete bunker or container, and lifted one 5-inch shell with a backhoe, said base commander Capt. Tilghman D. Payne.
The construction area is the site of the future Fleet Gym, which is expected to open in August or September.
The uppermost shells were exposed and appeared to be inert — meaning they were hollowed out and did not appear to contain explosives, said Lt. Cmdr. Brett Blanton, the base Public Works Officer.
“Some of them you can tell” are inert because they are hollowed, he said. “Others, because of dirt, you can’t tell or they are covered.”
Since the work was being done under the Japanese Facilities Improvement Program, Japanese officials have jurisdiction over the cache, Payne said.
As soon as the shells were found, base officials evacuated nearby buildings and closed the back gate. Traffic was to be rerouted through an unused supply gate until the shells are removed. The main gate was not affected.
Japanese officials were immediately notified, Payne said.
When the cache was found, workers noticed a strong odor, so base leaders called in a U.S. Navy decontamination team to ensure the shells did not contain chemicals or an immediate threat.
About 350 people at several commands and buildings were evacuated including the Ship Repair Facility, Personnel Support Detachment, Welcome Center, Logistics Office, Navy Federal Credit Union, Community Bank and McDonald’s, said base spokesman Charles T. Howard.
Payne said although people were evacuated, there was no cause for serious alarm: “You always err on the side of caution,” he said.
Bomb crews from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force were expected to arrive in the early evening to remove the ordnance.
About a month ago, a single 8-inch shell was uncovered during an American-funded construction project at the new Navy Exchange building. It was removed by Navy explosive ordnance disposal crews. The shell was also inert.
“It’s not unusual for one of these” to be discovered, Payne said. “This was one of the largest imperial navy bases.”