SUONG CITY, Tbong Khmum province – Forty-three years ago, a 500-pound MK-82 bomb fell from a U.S. warplane and onto a house in Choeung Lang village, crashing through the roof and lodging in the soft dirt beneath the floor.
And for 43 years, it sat there as a modern city grew up around it, undisturbed, largely forgotten—and unexploded. But on Saturday, A team of deminers and bomb disposal experts finally dug the explosive out of the ground and carted it off.
“Now, my concern that the bomb could cause an accident is gone,” said Oeng Tek, who bought the single-story concrete shophouse two years ago but learned of the live bomb buried below his feet only last month.
“It is like someone has removed a thorn from my chest,” he said.
Saturday’s operation follows the recovery of a similar U.S. bomb from the bed of the Mekong River in May, the first removal by the country’s new team of underwater deminers.
Deminers and bomb-disposal experts have uncovered and safely detonated several of the large bombs over the past few decades. But Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), the government’s demining arm, said that Saturday was also a first.
“What’s interesting is that the bomb was under the house. It is the first time that we found a bomb under a house,” said Mr. Ratana, who was present for the removal.
The U.S. is believed to have dropped some 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 while in pursuit of North Vietnamese forces hiding across the border.
Village chief Taing Kimly said he witnessed the bombing of Choeung Lang in 1972.
“The U.S. plane dropped many bombs on our village. One bomb fell through the roof but did not explode,” he said on Saturday.
Mr. Kimly said that families that came to live in the house in the 1980s, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, assumed they had neutralized the threat by pouring salt over the bomb. He said they believed the salt would cause the bomb to rust and eventually disintegrate.
It did not.
Mr. Tek, the current owner, said he bought the house, now hemmed in by larger concrete buildings, in 2013 for about $7,000 and has since been renting it out as a mobile phone shop. He said he had been planning to tear the shop down and rebuild it when he first heard rumors about the bomb last month. He notified local authorities a few days later, and CMAC arrived on August 6.
“I had plans to rebuild the house, but I canceled them because I was scared,” he said. “If I had known the bomb was there, I would not have bought the land.”
Mam Vannarith, CMAC’s deputy manager in charge of planning and operations, said that a team of eight deminers and bomb-disposal experts had been searching for the bomb since the 6th and finally found it on Friday, about 3 meters beneath Mr. Tek’s concrete floor.
Authorities evacuated the buildings near the shop the same day and cleared all buildings within a radius of a few hundred meters on Saturday as CMAC officers lifted the bomb out of the hole and loaded it into the bed of a pickup truck, briefly shutting down a stretch of National Road 7 as the vehicle drove it away.
Mr. Ratana said that the bomb would be detonated this week at a CMAC site in Kompong Chhnang province.
Mr. Tek said he would build the new shophouse he had been planning.