NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – An explosion rocked the deserted streets of downtown Nashville early on Christmas morning, smashing windows, damaging buildings and injuring three people. Authorities said they believed the explosion was intentional.
Metro Nashville police chief John Drake said the police were responding to a shooting report when they found a recreational vehicle displaying a recording that said a potential bomb would detonate in 15 minutes. The police evacuated nearby buildings and called the bomb squad.
“Shortly after that, the RV exploded,” Drake said at a noon press conference.
The surveillance video posted on a Twitter account on Friday that appeared to have been recorded across the street captured an audio recording that included the warning, “… if you can hear this message, evacuate now”. The explosion was captured in the surveillance video seconds later.
Nashville Metro Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said three people had been taken to hospitals in the area for treatment, although none were in critical condition. Authorities do not know if anyone was in the vehicle when it exploded.
Aaron said earlier that some people had been taken to the department’s central police station for questioning, but declined to give further details.
The FBI will take the lead in the investigation, said spokesman Joel Siskovic. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosive violations and acts of terrorism.
At noon, police dogs continued to search nearby cars and buildings.
A Philadelphia man who was staying at a nearby hotel said that when he heard the explosion, he knew it was not a harmless noise.
“It was a very strong explosion,” said Joseph Fafara. “We tried to rationalize that it was an earthquake or something. But it was obvious that it was not an earthquake. ”He said he traveled to Tennessee with his family at Christmas because the state has more flexible COVID-19 restrictions than Philadelphia.
Fafará went out to see the damage, but police barricades had already been put in place.
Black smoke and flames were spotted on Friday exiting the area, which is full of bars, restaurants and other retail outlets and is known as the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene.
The buildings trembled in the immediate area and beyond after a loud crash was heard. An AT&T facility was among the affected buildings. Some service was interrupted, the company said.
“Service for some customers in and around Nashville could be affected by damage to our facilities caused by the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement authorities and working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service, ”said Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesman, in an emailed statement.
The trailer was parked near an AT&T-owned building, which is one block from the AT&T building’s office tower. “We don’t know if it was a coincidence or if that was the intention,” said Aaron.
Some law enforcement agencies are reporting that their 911 systems are down due to the AT&T outage. The Murfreesboro police department said via Twitter that its 911 lines were disconnected due to a drop in AT&T. Knox County, which h includes Knoxville, reported similar problems with its 911 lines.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water running down the roof of his home. Alarms go off in the background and screams from people in great danger go off in the background. A fire is visible in the street outside.
McCoy says he said he heard gunshots 15 minutes before the explosion shook his building. McCoy said his home windows were completely destroyed.
“All my windows, each one exploded in the next room. If I were there, it would have been awful, ”he said.
“It looked like a bomb. It was so big, ”he told the Associated Press.
“There were about four cars on fire. I don’t know if it was so hot that they caught fire and the trees were destroyed, ”he said.
President Donald Trump has been informed, according to White House spokesman Judd Deere, who said that Trump, who is on vacation in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates. The U.S. Department of Justice said Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all of the department’s resources to assist with the investigation.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the necessary resources “to determine what happened and who was responsible. Please join @MariaLeeTN and me in prayer for those who were injured and we thank all of our first respondents who acted so quickly this morning. “
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said the city was lucky that the number of wounded was limited.
The American Tennessee Red Cross announced that it is working with authorities to open a shelter for victims.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington contributed. Beaty reported from New York.