Nerve-wracking weeks ahead for Pardubice as decontamination work starts

Decontaminating the area surrounding the Paramo oil refinery, photo: CTK

Residents of the east Bohemian city of Pardubice could be in for an eventful few weeks, as workmen begin the delicate task of decontaminating an area surrounding the local Paramo oil refinery. The work itself would normally be fairly run-of-the-mill, except for the fact that there could be a number of unexploded bombs buried in the ground from the Second World War.

Decontaminating the area surrounding the Paramo oil refinery,  photo: CTK
Pardubice is an industrial city about an hour and a quarter east of Prague. Its two best-known exports are gingerbread and the industrial explosive semtex, beloved of terrorists the world over. But there’s also a large oil refinery in the city called Paramo – the acronym stands for the Pardubice Refinery of Mineral Oils. This week work began to decontaminate an area about the size of a football pitch.

The excavation work is being made more difficult by the presumed presence of unexploded bombs from the Second World War. Industrial areas of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia were repeatedly targetted by Allied bombing raids; around 1,600 bombs fell on and around the Paramo refinery in four raids during the war. Many residents still shudder when they remember them:

“At night we had to run into the was terrible.“

Paramo oil refinery,  photo: Miloš Turek
“We had the blackout curtains pulled down, and our clothes at the ready so we just got dressed quickly and ran into the fields.”

Most of the bombs dropped on Pardubice exploded, but pyrotechnic experts believe there could be as many 130 unexploded bombs buried in various locations around the city. The likelihood that the excavation work will unearth at least one of them is high. Jiří Kyncl, the local official in charge of the safety team overseeing the work, told Czech Radio the city wasn’t taking any chances:

“There have been cases where a bomb exploded and pieces of shrapnel weighing seven kilos ended up 800 metres away. So it is dangerous. We have several plans for evacuation – including evacuating up to 1,500 children who’ll have to be moved to other schools if we find a bomb.“

A bomb disposal expert will be on hand at all times during the excavation work. If workmen find an unexploded bomb, all excavation work will be halted, a police pyrotechnic team summoned, and an area of 600 square metres will be evacuated, something that will affect about 220 people living and working nearby.

Photo: CTK
Depending on the situation, the evacuation zone could be expanded to 1,100 square metres, and local rail and road transport rerouted. That second evacuation plan would see 1,600 inhabitants moved, and several schools closed. Residents would be resettled in a local sports stadium and schools. The worst-case scenario for the emergency services would be detonating the bomb on site. Pardubice faces an unsettling few weeks until the excavation work is finished.