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Suspected second world war bomb detonated in Exeter after homes evacuated

Molly Blackall
·3-min read

Thousands of people have been forced to spend a second night out of their homes after a suspected second world war bomb discovered in Exeter was detonated.

The noise of the explosion heard for miles around and left a crater the size of a double-decker bus, police said on Saturday night, as well as sending debris up to 250 metres away from the site of the blast.

Devon and Cornwall Police were alerted after the device was discovered on a building site on private land to the west of the University of Exeter campus at about 9.20am on Friday.

Related: Captain Sir Tom Moore’s funeral to get flypast by WWII plane

Initially, a 100m cordon was erected, but this was extended to 400m on Saturday at the request of the Royal Navy bomb disposal team.

Around 2,600 properties in the vicinity of Glenthorne Road, including 1,400 university students, were evacuated on Friday and Saturday.

Police warned that a “loud bang” was expected when the bomb was detonated at 6.10pm on Saturday, but said there was no cause for alarm as the cordon meant there were no health risks to anyone beyond its perimeter.

Residents had been expected to return to their homes on Saturday night but, speaking after the blast, a force spokesman said: “The 400m cordon will remain until further notice, so residents should not return home this evening.

“Devon County Council and Exeter Council have been working to support evacuated residents.”

He added: “Around 400-tonnes of sand was transported to the site of the device, which is at a building site on private land, and walls were erected, initially by the Royal Navy bomb disposal experts, followed by Army personnel from the Royal Logistics Corps, to mitigate the impact of the detonation.

“Trenches were also dug to prevent ground shock. Despite these mitigation measures, the impact of the blast has been significant and debris has been thrown at least 250-metres away. The crater is around the size of a double decker bus.”

Twelve university halls of residence buildings were among the locations evacuated, forcing 1,400 university students to leave their dorms. The University of Exeter confirmed that students were being relocated to hotels and provided with “personal care items and details of food allowances”.

Examination of the device, thought to be about 2.5 metres x 70cm in size, began at 10am on Saturday, Insp Sean Roper of Devon and Cornwall police said.

After the discovery of the device, road closures were put in place between Cowley Bridge and the Exe bridges, with diversions in place and motorists advised to avoid the area.

Exeter city council said it had set up a rapid response hub to help assist those who had been evacuated in conjunction with Devon county council. The majority of residents evacuated are staying with family and friends, police said.

A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall police confirmed that the examination and detonation of the device had been passed to the army. “Residents should be reassured that military, police and partners are working to maintain public safety. Exemptions in Covid-19 social distancing rules exist for matters of public safety such as this.”