Florida neighborhood on alert over WW II bombs

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ORLANDO, Fla., Nov 28 (Reuters) Residents of an Orlando neighborhood of 500,000 dollars homes are stepping gingerly these days since finding live World War II explosives next to a middle school, a day care center, homes and businesses.

''We are stressing what we call the three Rs,'' said Nancy Sticht, a spokeswoman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which she said means to recognize, retreat and report suspected bombs. ''They're old but being old doesn't make them any less dangerous. They can become more unstable over time.'' Undetonated bombs and fragments first turned up in July behind Odyssey Middle School, which Stricht said was built within the former Pinecastle Jeep Range leased by the military in the 1940s for troop training.

The school lies inside a target zone that was used for bombing, strafing and air-to-ground rocket practice, according to an aerial photograph overlay prepared by the Corps of Engineers to delineate the apparent bull's eye.

But since the discovery behind the school, other live munitions have been found beyond the target zone, including a 23-pound (10 kg) bomb found in early November by a private munitions company that was hired by a nearby residential developer to make sure his site was safe.

Stricht said the 12,000-acre (4,856-hectare) former Pinecastle Jeep Range is just one of 700 old and potentially hazardous defense sites in Florida alone, including about 100 that dealt with munitions.

A search of old army and county records by the Orlando Sentinel revealed how the problem can spread even beyond the sites' boundaries. The records show that builders have been granted permission since 1999 to excavate the bomb range site for dirt to be used for road and building foundations.

A recent sweep of the school campus and adjacent ranch by the corps identified 2,000 metal objects underground. Each item is being excavated and cleared under an emergency 1.1 million dollar cleanup which began over the Thanksgiving week school holiday and will continue during the Christmas break, Stricht said.

Neighbors, however, are wondering when the rest of the Pinecastle range, on which part of the Vista Lakes residential community has been developed, and the roads and property developed with soil from the range, will be inspected.

The city of Orlando has called on developers to voluntarily check their property before building, and Commissioner Phil Diamond says stronger action may be required.

''I say no testing, no permit,'' Diamond said.

Vista Lakes developer Newland Communities, a private real estate development company, declined to comment.

Reuters AK VP0433

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