A recreational vehicle parked in the deserted streets of downtown Nashville exploded early Christmas morning, causing widespread communications outages that took down police emergency systems and grounded flights at the city’s airport.
At a press conference Friday night, Nashville Mayor John Cooper said authorities believe the explosion was caused by a “deliberate bomb.”
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said police were responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered a recreational vehicle blaring a recording that said a potential bomb was to detonate in 15 minutes. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad. Shortly after that, the RV exploded, Drake said.
“This morning’s attack on our community was intended to create chaos and fear in this season of peace and hope. But Nashvillians have proven time and time again that the spirit of our city cannot be broken,” Cooper said.
Police said they don’t yet know a motive or target, and Drake noted that officials had not received any threats before the explosion.
Three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition Friday evening, Cooper said.
Surveillance video published on a Twitter account Friday that appeared to be recorded from across the street captured an audio recording that included the warning, “if you can hear this message, evacuate now.”
The blast was captured on the surveillance video seconds later.
Possible remains found
Authorities have found what they believe to be human remains in the vicinity of the explosion site, the chief of the state police told reporters Friday evening.
It is unclear how the remains are related to the Friday explosion or whether they might belong to the person believed to be responsible or a victim.
The officials could not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Mayor Cooper declared a state of emergency on Friday evening.Parts of the city will be placed under a nighttime curfew starting at 4:30 p.m. Friday and ending Sunday.
I have signed Executive Order 12 to issue a state of civil emergency proclaimed within the area bounded by James Robertson Parkway, 4th Ave north, Broadway and the Cumberland River. A curfew will start at 4:30pm, Friday Dec 25. and be lifted Sunday, December 27 at 4:30pm. <a href=”https://t.co/jZ484LrHZ7″>pic.twitter.com/jZ484LrHZ7</a>
Some AT&T services, 911 systems affected
The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook streets over from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T, which is one block away from the company’s office tower.
“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesperson Don Aaron said.
AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.
“Service for some customers in Nashville and the surrounding areas may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service,” AT&T spokesperson Jim Greer said in an emailed statement.
Brad, we are aware service for some customers in Nashville & surrounding areas may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service.
The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky, including Bowling Green about 105 kilometres north of Nashville.
Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Murfreesboro and Knox County, home to Knoxville about 290 kilometres east of Nashville.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion.
Some police agencies reported that their 911 systems went down due to the AT&T outage.
“Murfreesboro’s 911 lines, and non-emergency lines, are currently down. AT&T is experiencing an outage. Please call 629-201-5056 until further notice,” the Murfreesboro police department tweeted.
FBI takes lead in investigation
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, said spokesperson Joel Siskovic. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.
Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene.
WATCH | CBC’s Derek Stoffel reports on Nashville blast:
A Philadelphia man staying in a nearby hotel said that when he heard the blast, he knew it wasn’t a harmless noise.
“It was a very loud explosion,” said Joseph Fafara. “We tried to rationalize it — that it was an earthquake or something. But it was obvious it wasn’t an earthquake.”
He said he travelled to Tennessee with his family on Christmas because the state has looser COVID-19 restrictions than Philadelphia.
Fafara went outside to look at the damage, but police barricades had already been set up.
‘It felt like a bomb’
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water pouring down the ceiling of his home. Alarms blare in the background and cries of people in great distress ring out. A fire is visible on the street outside.
McCoy said he heard gunfire 15 minutes before the explosion rocked his building. The windows of his home were entirely blown out, he said.
“All my windows, every single one of them, got blown into the next room. If I had been standing there, it would have been horrible,” he told The Associated Press. “It felt like a bomb. It was that big.”
“There were about four cars on fire. I don’t know if it was so hot they just caught on fire, and the trees were all blown apart.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has been briefed about the situations, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere. He said Trump, who is spending the holidays in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates.
The U.S. Justice Department said acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible.”
The American Red Cross of Tennessee announced that it was working with officials to open a shelter for victims.