Thousands flee from WW1 ammo

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This has to be the most unusual story of the day. Why do they still have all that old ammo?

POSTED AT 6:44 AM EDT Friday, April 13

Thousands flee Vimy

Reuters News Agency

Lille, France Thousands of people living near a stockpile of First World War artillery shells and chemical weapons in northern France were ordered to leave their homes on Friday after experts warned the site risked exploding.

Police staked out a three kilometre exclusion zone around the open air depot at Vimy, site of the ferocious Canadian assault on German trenches at Easter 1917, and told residents they would not be let back in for around 10 days.

"There are serious risks for the people living near the Vimy site, in particular from the escape of toxic products which are still active," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Among the weapons believed to be stored there are shells of mustard gas, the most lethal of all poisonous chemicals used during the 1914-1918 war. Mustard gas causes horrific internal bleeding, blindness and destroys victims' lungs in a slow death.

Vimy witnessed intense fighting throughout the war, costing the lives of around 200,000 Canadian, British, French and German troops. More than a million shells were fired at the Germans in the build-up to the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Around 160 tonnes of bombs, shells and mines are stored at Vimy. The Interior Ministry said a recent survey of the site showed the munitions were in an alarming state of repair, with some of the crates of shells splitting apart.

The ministry said "selected" chemical weapons would be transferred to another depot by special convoy next weekend after they had been refrigerated and rendered inert. "The government does not rule out widening the evacuation zone at a later date," it said.

Those within the initial exclusion zone had 24 hours to pack their bags and leave. Local officials estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 people would be affected.

Unexploded shells dating from the First World War are still regularly dug up in the region and brought to the site for safe keeping. One person was killed and another seriously wounded in Vimy in 1998 after one of the shells exploded.

The Canadian assault at Vimy Ridge was later used as the model for the massive Allied offensive of 1918, which ended the war. Canada repatriated the remains of one of its soldiers from Vimy last year to become the country's official Unknown Soldier.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/RTGAMArticleHTMLTemplate?tf=RT/fullstory_print.html&cf=RT/config-neutral&slug=wvimy&date=20010413&archive=RTGAM&site=Front

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 14, 2001

Answers

04/15 09:03 French Transport of Weapons From Depot to Begin Today (Update1) By Katrin Bennhold

Arras, France, April 15 (Bloomberg) -- The transport of ammunition containing lethal chemicals from a French World War I weapons dump to a military camp 250 kilometers (155 miles) away will begin tonight or in the early morning, local police said.

The 1,000 police officers, firefighters and army personnel that started stabilizing the volatile ammunition yesterday have begun loading refrigerated trucks that keep toxic gases inactive. They will bring the arms shipment to Suippes in eastern France, where the material will be placed in secure crates.

Most of the 12,000 people living within 3 kilometers of the Vimy depot near Arras evacuated the area Friday.

``The transport convoys will move during the night or in the early morning,'' said Marie-Jeanne Courtier of nearby Lille's police station, adding that ``the route is yet undecided.''

It's also unclear whether the total of 32 tons of toxic material will be transported in different convoys, Courtier said.

The stabilization and transport of Vimy's entire toxic arms stock, stored in the depot for 34 years, is expected to last until the end of the week, when people will be able to return. The remaining ammunition consists only of non-chemical material.

Evacuation

Security staff monitoring the depot, which contains 173 tons of British, French and German shells, almost all containing mustard gas or other lethal chemicals, found that some of the crates holding the projectiles are falling apart. The government reacted by ordering evacuation within 24 hours.

In September 1997, former Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement commissioned a study of an arms destruction plant that could help eliminate all leftover ammunition from the two world wars.

The plant was never built, though current Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant told the press Friday that an undisclosed timetable for its construction was now in place.

Some 30 residents of the evacuation zone refused to leave their homes, mainly to stay with pets or animals. So far, 700 farm animals have been evacuated along with their owners and put up in provisional feeding stations organized by the local veterinary service.

Arras was the scene of an extensive British and Canadian offensive against German trenches around Easter 1917.

``Vimy Ridge was key to the German defense system,'' according to an account of the battle by Canada's Veterans Affairs agency. ``Rising 61 meters above the Douai Plain, it protected an area of occupied France in which mines and factories were in full production for Germany.''

Unexploded shells unearthed from the area were frequently brought to the depot in Vimy.

http://quote.bloomberg.com/fgcgi.cgi?ptitle=Top%20World% 20News&s1=blk&tp=ad_topright_topworld&T=markets_bfgcgi_content99.ht&s2 =blk&bt=ad_position1_windex&middle=ad_frame2_windex&s=AOtmcCBYzRnJlbmN o

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 15, 2001.


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