Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Authorities say residents of a small town in Switzerland may have to abandon their homes for more than a decade while safety crews clear away thousands of tons of World War II-era munitions from an underground depot there.
Officials said this week the primary reason for concern is that the cache in Mitholz, a town in the Bernese Alps, has partially caved in and rock debris has fallen onto explosives.
Switzerland's defense ministry said Mitholz residents might have to evacuate because the danger is "unacceptable" -- but the soonest they would have to leave their homes is about 10 years from now.
Crews will need several years to prepare for such a project, officials said, adding that it ultimately could cost billions of dollars.
The depot in Mitholz, a village of less than 200 people, partly exploded in 1947 and killed nine people. A government report said last year the risk of another explosion is probably greater than expected.
Officials say the project will be difficult because a rock formation covering the weapons is unstable and only can be removed in layers. Crews also might have to build new roads to keep some local areas connected.
Project manager Hanspeter Aellig told reporters Tuesday that a contingency plan to buy the old munitions remains an option.