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Nashville mayor John Cooper said: “Initial evidence does show that it was a deliberate bomb being set off in our community.”
At a briefing late morning, the FBI announced that the agency, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, would lead the investigation into a blast that left three people with non-critical injuries.
Authorities said they had received a phone call warning that a parked recreational vehicle (RV) was set to explode in 15 minutes. The RV itself began broadcasting an apparently recorded repeating message for anyone nearby to stand away, Guardian reported.
|A photograph released by the Metropolitan Nashville police showing the R.V. that later exploded, driving through downtown Nashville in the early hours of Friday morning (Photo: Getty Images)|
As Nashville police officers cleared the area of residents, the vehicle exploded, causing structural damage to several buildings, knocking down trees, and smashing windows for hundreds of yards.
As reported by NY Times, the police released a photo of the R.V. on Friday afternoon and said the vehicle had arrived on Second Avenue North at 1:22 a.m. The R.V. was parked outside an AT&T transmission building, a separate building from the landmark 33 story AT&T office tower less than half a mile away.
It is still unclear if a person was inside the R.V. when it exploded, officials said. In a news conference on Friday evening, police officials said there were no indications of fatalities, but possible human tissue had been found amid the debris.
|Highlighted areas below show where damage was visible in early photos and videos (Illustrations: NY Times)|
Gas lines were shut off in the area, and AT&T experienced outages, which forced the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily halt flights out of the Nashville International Airport.
Aaron said police are not aware of other threats to public, but bomb dogs swept the area as a precaution. Authorities could not say if anyone was in the vehicle when it exploded.
Don Cochran, US attorney for Nashville, said the Department of Justice was directing its full resources to the investigation. FBI assistant special agent Matt Foster appealed to the public for tips. “We need your leads and we need your help,” he said.
The ATF special agent in charge, Mickey French, said the agency had activated a national response team, including explosives experts to help investigate the incident. “Our main priority is obviously to keep our citizens safe and secure,” he said.
The blast causes detrimental damages
Images from the city’s entertainment district showed multiple buildings with windows blown out and masonry and rubble scattered in the street, and several burnt-out vehicles. Earlier images showed flames and smoke, and what appeared to be the charred remains of the RV. At least 41 businesses have been materially damaged by the explosion. Fire officials added that one building across from the explosion collapsed.
According to reports in the Tennessean, the blast was felt for miles and triggered a response from a police bomb squad as well as firefighters and other state and federal law enforcement officials.
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 in the background. A fire is visible in the street outside.
|Emergency personnel work near the scene of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday. (Photo: Reuters)|
|(Photo: NY Times)|
McCoy said the windows of his home were entirely blown out. “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. “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,” McCoy added.
“The whole neighborhood shook,” Lily Hansen was quoted by NY Times, who was sitting on her couch in her second-floor apartment in a loft building a few blocks away. She looked outside. “I just can’t get the image out of my head.”
“The explosion was significant, as you can see, the police department, its federal partners – the FBI and ATF – are conducting a large-scale investigation to this point,” said Nashville’s police spokesman. “We do believe that the explosion was an intentional act.”
Police later said the incident was linked to a vehicle parked outside a fondue restaurant, the Melting Pot.
The owner of the nearby Nashville Downtown hostel told the paper guests were evacuated to Nissan Stadium for shelter. He said he got a call early on Friday from his staff reporting hearing a “loud boom” and the fire alarm going off.
Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, urged people to stay away from the downtown area, as police and federal authorities launched their investigation. Cooper said the city was lucky that the number of injuries was limited.
Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible”.
Andrew McCabe, a former deputy FBI director, told CNN that an explosion of this size would be investigated as a possible act of terrorism. He said it was possible police were the target of the explosions given they were answering a report of a suspicious vehicle when it blew up.
|Smoke could be seen rising from Nashville after an explosion on Friday. (Photo: AP)|
The explosion punctuates an agonizing year for Nashville
According to NY Times, in March, a deadly tornado swept through some of the city’s most bustling neighborhoods, which still have streets lined with mangled debris. And the coronavirus pandemic hit Tennessee hard — through the spread of the virus and then as it devastated a tourism industry that has thrived in recent years.
And now, Nashville has been rattled, left to confront a bizarre and terrifying mystery.
“One more event in Nashville’s 2020,” Mr. Cooper said in a news conference on Friday.
Tom Cirillo, who lives downtown, said the blast on Friday reminded him of the tornado, a harrowing experience for Nashville as it raked through homes and businesses, leveling or partly collapsing 48 structures. In addition to the damage, signs declaring “Nashville Strong” still dot the city.
“It’s just sort of a terrible thing that it happened on a Christmas morning,” Mr. Cirillo said. “You’re lucky that it happened at the time that it did. I’m just wondering what exactly happened.”
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