March 1 ------ People in a Swiss village have been told they may have to leave their homes for more than a decade while a nearby Second World War weapons store is cleared. Nine people died in 1947 and many properties were destroyed after an explosion at an underground armoury in Mitholz, where 3,500 tonnes of ammunition remain. Switzerland's defence ministry said the chance of another blast had been underestimated for decades, and that the risk to residents had now become "unacceptable".
The defence ministry said it expects the actual clearing work "to begin in 2031 after extensive preparations". A major road through the village may also have to be rerouted, affecting connections between Kandergrund and the high-altitude resort village of Kandersteg. A public consultation is under way, with residents and local businesses able to have their say on the plans until 17 April. On its website, the Swiss defence ministry said it would offer support to those affected, and that they would "seek to talk to individuals and families".
It added that if the evacuation were to "pose insurmountable problems", or "did not meet the protection objectives", it would still be possible to significantly reduce the risks by "covering the installation with a rock mass". Various systems have been installed inside and around the former ammunition depot, making it possible to measure in particular temperature variations, gas emissions and rock movements. The canton of Bern has also drawn up an emergency plan.