A campervan parked on a downtown street in the US city of Nashville exploded at dawn on Christmas morning, moments after a recorded message from the vehicle warned of a bomb.
Friday’s explosion injured three people, damaged several buildings and caused widespread communication blackouts that destroyed police emergency systems and blocked vacation travel to the Nashville airport.
Police called the explosion “an intentional act” and said investigators found possible human remains near the site.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper has ordered a curfew imposed around the site of the blast over the holiday weekend as FBI investigators scour the scene, although police say they do was aware of no other threats to the most populous city in the state of Tennessee.
The explosion came just moments after officers responded to reports of gunfire in the area and discovered the recreational vehicle parked outside an AT&T office tower in downtown Nashville at around 6 a.m. , local time (12:00 GMT).
Some photos showing damage on 2nd Ave North as several agencies continue to work and investigate an explosion earlier this morning. pic.twitter.com/0cWA3oUCDl
– Nashville Fire Department (@NashvilleFD) December 25, 2020
Police heard a recorded voice warning that a “bomb would explode in 15 minutes,” Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters.
The message, as captured in a recording later aired by local TV stations, read: “This area must be evacuated now. This area must be evacuated now. If you hear this message, evacuate now. If you hear this message, evacuate now. “
Officers quickly went door to door to nearby buildings to bring people to safety and called the bomb squad, which was on their way to the scene when the vehicle blew up, the porter said. police word, Don Aaron.
Three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition on Friday evening.
The Metro Nashville Police Department posted a photo of the camper van on their Twitter feed and said the vehicle arrived in the area at 1:22 am (7:22 am GMT).
RUPTURE: This is the motorhome that exploded on 2nd Avenue N this morning. He arrived on 2nd Ave at 1:22 a.m. Have you seen this vehicle in our area or do you have any information about it? Please contact us via Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463 or online via https://t.co/dVGS7o0m4v. @Tfhq pic.twitter.com/JNx9sDinAH
– Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) December 25, 2020
Drake, the police chief, said investigators at the scene later “found tissue that we believe may be remains, but we will have them examined and let you know at that time.”
Police couldn’t tell if it was potentially from someone inside the vehicle.
Authorities did not immediately say what could be the reason for the explosion.
Cooper, the mayor of Nashville, said officials were awaiting the investigation.
“It will take a little while to get to the bottom of this,” Cooper told reporters. “I think it was clearly done when no one was going to be there.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted Friday morning that federal, state and local law enforcement was on the scene to investigate. “We will provide all the resources necessary to determine what happened and who was responsible,” he said.
Early this morning, an explosion occurred in downtown Nashville around Second Avenue and Commerce Street. Federal, state and local law enforcement partners are on the scene to investigate what we believe to be intentional act.
– Governor Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) December 25, 2020
FBI Deputy Special Agent in charge Matt Foster said federal and local authorities were working to investigate several leads, but did not give specific details of the ongoing investigation.
“It is also our city. We live here, we work here and we are doing everything we can to find out who was responsible for what happened here today, “Foster told reporters, describing the incident as a” very tragic event of the day of Christmas “.
“We will find out what happened here,” he added.
MNPD, FBI and ATF are investigating the 6.30am explosion on 2nd Avenue N linked to a vehicle. It appears to have been an intentional act. Police are closing downtown streets as the investigation continues. pic.twitter.com/YOfMTaKmTH
– Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) December 25, 2020
Images from Friday morning showed smoke, debris and emergency crews at the site of the explosion in downtown Nashville, an area teeming with bars, restaurants and other retail stores.
At least 20 buildings were damaged and US telecommunications company AT&T, which owns a building near the explosion, reported service disruptions on Friday. The Federal Aviation Administration also temporarily halted flights from Nashville International Airport due to telecommunications issues related to the explosion.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, said the windows in his house were blown out.
“All my windows, each one of them was blown in the next room. If I had been there it would have been horrible, ”he told the Associated Press news agency.
“It was like a bomb. It was so big, ”he says.
Jeremy Schott, who lives a block and a half from the blast site, called the blast “unbelievable.”
“We just heard this explosion and felt the windows and our building shake. We live in a high rise building on the 26th floor. “
Glenn Carle, a former US intelligence officer, told Al Jazeera that the early hour of the blast saved many casualties.
“If you want to kill a lot of people and you’re going to do that during their shopping hours, 7:30 p.m. or two in the afternoon,” he says. “Whether it’s 6:30 a.m. on a Christmas morning is about the time when there will be as few people as possible, which might imply that this is a declaration, rather than a act rather than seek to make massive losses. ”
Police dog units carried out “protective sweeps” of the downtown area, the Nashville Police Department said Friday afternoon, and traffic was restricted in the downtown area.
City firefighters said crews were visiting buildings in the area of the blast to make sure structures were secure and to check for casualties.
A spokesperson for Donald Trump said the US president has been made aware of the explosion and will continue to receive regular updates.
“The president is grateful for the incredible first responders and prays for those who have been injured,” said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, as reported by the White House press pool.
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law in New York City, told Al Jazeera there is still a lot to be understood about the explosion.
“It’s pretty scary. It was an explosion and it could have injured many people, ”she said.
“What was the message that was supposed to be sent? And who sent it? A bomb like this leaves a lot of clues. What went in there – where they bought the materials, where they even put them together. So it will take time, but they (the FBI) will find out.
“The magnitude is concerning, but we don’t know who to attribute this to or what it meant.”