A large explosion broke through part of downtown Nashville early Christmas morning shortly after a vehicle was detected with a message that it was about to explode.
The Metro Nashville Office of Emergency Management told local broadcaster News 2 that the parked RV exploded around 6:30 a.m., damaging at least 20 surrounding buildings, including an AT&T office building that resulted in 911 communications and local flight control systems got into chaos.
Nashville Fire spokesman Joseph Pleasant said three people had been rushed to the hospital even though none were in critical condition.
CBS News reported that authorities found human remains near the site of the explosion. It is unclear whether the remains belong to someone in the RV or a victim of the explosion.
The FBI has taken over the investigation and asked the public to report any information about the explosion. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are also supporting the investigation. Police dogs trained to spy on accelerators are used to search for other potential bombs.
The Tennessean reported that several people were taken to the department’s central district for questioning, but the police refused to provide any further details about these people.
Nashville police announced that a 10 block radius of downtown streets would be closed if they investigate the scene further. A spokeswoman for the Metro Nashville Police Department said the location of the explosion was an “active scene”.
Police were called at 6 a.m. this morning to check on a suspicious vehicle parked outside the AT&T office building – the tallest skyscraper in the city – and called a dangerous equipment division to investigate.
Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said the police were originally called on site to investigate reports of gunfire. Although the police found no evidence of gunfire in the area, they discovered the motor home, which prompted them to alert the bomb squad.
During a news conference on Friday morning, Police Chief John Drake said officers who responded to the RV heard it play a tape “that said a potential bomb would explode within 15 minutes”.
Witnesses who were near the site of the explosion reported The Tennessean that they heard a recorded voice from the motorhome warning them to flee.
“Evacuate now. There’s a bomb there. There is a bomb in this vehicle and it will explode, “the voice reportedly said.
Then it was said the RV had started a 15-minute countdown.
The officers moved to evacuate the nearby apartment buildings and to clear people from the streets.
Mr Aaron said officials went door-to-door before the explosion to evacuate residents who lived near the RV parking lot. In the moments before the explosion, a woman’s voice calling anyone who could hear the message to evacuate was played over loudspeakers in the vicinity of the motor home.
Apparently, officials also turned away a man who led his dog towards the RV just before it exploded.
The mobile home exploded at 6:30 a.m. Authorities could not confirm whether anyone was in the vehicle at the time of the explosion.
Noelle Ramussen told CBS News that she was grateful to officials for warning her and her family of the impending explosion when the blast destroyed the front of their building.
“I’m so glad we left. I’m so glad we have our children. And most of all, I’m so glad that these officers entered a building they knew was a dangerous place, and, you know, woke us up and got us out. I’m so grateful, “she said.
A Nashville resident Bryan Norwood related Forbes said he lived near the site of the explosion and heard gunshots this morning. Mr Norwood said the shots came in a series of shots and that the later rounds were loud enough to cause him to barricade his door.
A man who lives nearby, Buck McCoy, posted a video on Facebook showing the aftermath of the explosion. His windows are completely blown out and water pours down from the ceiling of his house.
Alarms buzz in the background, barely hiding the screams of others whose Christmas mornings were ruined by the explosion.
Black smoke puffs up in front of his house and rises from a vehicle fire on the ground outside.
“All of my windows, every single one of them, was blown into the next room. If I had stood there it would have been terrible, ”he told the Associated Press. “It felt like a bomb. It was so big. “
Mr McCoy also said he heard gunshots about 10 minutes before the explosion. He said he shoots in his spare time and knows the difference between a shot and other loud popping noises.
John Cooper, the city’s mayor, told CNN that he was aware of the explosion and was on his way to the scene.
“I know emergency services are using our help and all of our specialties to investigate the cause of the explosion and I am sure more information will be released soon,” said Cooper.
The explosion occurred in the heart of the city’s historic old town, which is where the hospitality and tourist district is located.
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp is offering a $ 10,000 contribution as a reward to anyone who can help law enforcement find the culprit.
Widespread AT&T failures were reported following the explosion.
A company spokesman said the damage caused by the explosion disrupted operations.
“Service for some customers in the Nashville area may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and are working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service,” the spokesman said The Tennessean.
The service interruption is also affecting the 911 systems of several local police departments.
Flights from Nashville Airport were suspended due to telecommunications caused by the outage.
A Justice Department spokesman said it had been directed to “dedicate all of the DOJ’s resources to support the investigation.”
Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted that she was “closely monitoring the situation.”
State Governor Bill Lee called for prayers and said the state will provide all the resources investigators need to determine the cause of the explosion.
A press pool report confirmed that Joe Biden had been informed of the situation.
“President-elect Biden has been informed of the explosion in Nashville, TN. President-elect and Dr. Biden thank all first responders working in response to the incident today and wish the injured a speedy recovery.”
Donald Trump was also briefed on the explosion, according to White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.