Explosion rattles downtown Nashville, knocks communications offline

Smoke billows from the site of an explosion in the area on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)
Windows are blown out and a broken water pipe sprays in a building near the scene of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Emergency personnel work near the scene of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
A K-9 team works in the area of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
A law enforcement member walks past damage from an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard early Christmas morning. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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 holiday travel at the city’s airport. Authorities said they believe the blast was intentional.

Police were responding to a report of shots fired Friday when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes, Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad. The RV exploded shortly afterward, Drake said at a news conference.

“It looks like a bomb went off on Second Avenue,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said after touring the site. Cooper issued a state of emergency and a curfew for the area.

Police did not immediately indicate a possible motive or the target.

Human remains were found in the vicinity of the explosion, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. It was unclear how the remains were related to the 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.

Surveillance video published on a Twitter account Friday that appeared to be across the street from the blast captured the warning issuing from the RV, “… if you can hear this message, evacuate now,” seconds before the explosion.

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 and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.

“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.

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 spokesman Jim Greer said in an emailed statement.

The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky, including Bowling Green about 65 miles (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 180 miles (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.

The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. 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 explosives violations and acts of terrorism.

Three people were taken to area hospitals for treatment after the blast, although none were in critical condition, Aaron said.

A Philadelphia man staying in a nearby hotel said that when he heard the blast, he was knew it wasn’t harmless.

“We tried to rationalize it that it was an earthquake or something, but it was obvious it wasn’t an earthquake,” Joseph Fafara said. He said he travelled to Tennessee with his family on Christmas because the state has looser COVID-19 restrictions than Philadelphia.

When he went to look at the damage, police barricades had already been put in place. At noon, police dogs continued to search cars and buildings in the nearby area.

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 along with cries of people in distress. A fire is visible in the street outside.

McCoy said he heard gunfire 15 minutes before the explosion rocked his building, set cars in the street on fire and blew trees apart.

“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 said.

“It felt like a bomb. It was that big,” he told The Associated Press.

President Donald Trump has been briefed, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere. 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.

READ MORE: People yearn to connect across borders amid pandemic holiday

READ MORE: ‘Plant boom:’ Working from home, pandemic stress has people turning green

___

Associated Press writer Thalia Beatty in New York contributed. Balsamo and Tucker reported from Washington.

Kimberlee Kruesi, Michael Balsamo And Eric Tucker, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Nanaimo man is offering a $300 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person who broke into his SUV and stole components from his drone. (News Bulletin file photo)
Drone owner offering reward after components stolen from his vehicle in Nanaimo

Vehicle break-in happened last month on Departure Bay Road

Regenerative farming that meets genuine needs should take priority over commercial recklessness, says columnist. (Stock photo)
Column: Hubris, greed causing humans to live destructively

Placing the economy as the top priority is licence to destroy natural systems, says columnist

Kyle Patrick McGuire was give a nine-month non-custodial sentencing to be followed by two years of probation on Wednesday, March 3, at the Nanaimo Law Courts. (PQB News file photo)
Bowser man sentenced to house arrest after guilty plea to child pornography offence

Nine-month non-custodial sentence to be followed by two years probation

A concept for development of the Green Thumb property in north Nanaimo. (Barefoot Planning and Design image)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Develop land with care and thought

It’s getting to the point that you can’t go a block without seeing more apartments, says letter writer

Nanaimo Community Archives is looking for submissions from homeowners who took on exterior renovation projects, no matter how big or how small, for the first Heritage House Renovations Awards. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo archives holding first Heritage House Renovation Awards

Judges want photos and descriptions of exterior renovations that enhanced character of Nanaimo homes

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A rendering of Front Street transportation improvements set to get underway as soon as next week. (McElhanney image/City of Nanaimo)
Work set to start on Front Street cycle track in downtown Nanaimo

Road work and street reconfiguration project scheduled to start in March, finish in May

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo motion seeks to ask province for help to combat illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read