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VICENZA, Italy — A 4,000-pound British bomb is to be defused, hauled away and blown up in the springtime, officials say.

According to Italian news accounts, the bomb, discovered in October, was dropped in November 1944 on what was then Dal Molin Airport. Defusing and removing it will require moving some 45,000 people from the area at a cost of about 1.5 million euros, Italian media have reported.

The all-Italian effort, called “Operation Old Lady,” apparently because the bomb has been in the ground for 69 years,is to be carried out by the 2nd Regiment of the Julia Alpine Engineers.

Operation Old Lady is expected to last for several hours. The plan is for citizens within 3 kilometers of the site, and soldiers from Del Din, home of the 173rd Infantry Combat Brigade Team (Airborne), which is adjacent to the site, to leave their abodes starting at 6 a.m. on a yet to be determined Sunday morning. Everyone is expected to be able to return to the area by the afternoon.

A similar operation was carried out in 2001 after a 4,000-pound bomb, apparently dropped by the British in April 1944, turned up in the Vicenza cemetery, found by a construction crew who initially thought it was a water heater, according to reports. At that time, 77,000 people — two-thirds of the city — were forced from their homes for several hours, also on a Sunday. This time, fewer people will be affected because the Italian experts are devising a huge earth berm — 23 feet tall and 49 feet wide — according to reports.

The bomb was found about 10 feet beneath the surface at what was Dal Molin Airfield and is now being developed by the City of Vicenza as a “Peace Park.” The find was hardly remarkable, except for the size. More than 100 pieces of unexploded ordnance, including 42 20-pound U.S. bombs, have already turned up there.

The regiment tasked with the peace park bomb disposal is part of a highly practiced regional command that has carried out 1,500 operations in the Veneto region this year, deactivating 7,000 pieces of ordnance, according to the Giornale di Vicenza.

Vicenza, like all of Italy, underwent repeated Allied bombings from 1940 through 1945. Estimates are that some 60,000 Italian civilians were killed by Allied bombs, according to a study by the Centre for the Study of War, State and Society at the University of Exeter. By contrast, about 410,000 German civilians were estimated to be killed by Allied air raids.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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