Police and federal agents were scouring the charred site of a Christmas Day explosion in Nashville on Saturday, trying to determine how and why a motor home blew up and injured three people in the heart of America’s country music capital.
The fiery blast, heard from miles away, destroyed several vehicles, damaged more than 40 businesses and left a trail of glass shards around the area.
The motor home, parked on a downtown street of Tennessee’s largest city, exploded at dawn on Friday moments after police responding to reports of gunfire noticed the recreational vehicle and heard an automated message emanating from it warning of a bomb.
The means of detonation and whether anyone was inside the RV when it blew up were not immediately known, but investigators were examining what they believed might be human remains found in the vicinity of the blast, police said.
Police offered no possible motive, and there was no claim of responsibility, though Nashville Metropolitan Police Department officials called the blast an “intentional act” and vowed to determine its origin.
Dozens of agents from the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were surveying the ashy disaster area on Saturday. Inside the area, which was blocked off to traffic, parked cars and trees were blackened and an exploded water pipe that had been spraying overnight had covered trees in a layer of ice.
A total of 41 businesses were damaged, Mayor John Cooper said.
“All the windows came in from the living room into the bedroom. The front door became unhinged,” Buck McCoy, who lives on the block where the blast occurred, told local TV station WKRN. “I had blood coming from my face and on my side and on my legs and a little bit on my feet.”
McCoy told CNN that he and some neighbors were returning to the area on Saturday in search of pets they had been forced to leave behind.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said he toured the disaster zone on Saturday, saying in a Twitter message it was a “miracle” that no one was killed. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Lee requested a federal emergency declaration for his state to aid in relief efforts.
A RECORDING, THEN A BLAST
Adding to the cryptic nature of Friday’s incident was the eerie preamble described by witnesses – a crackle of gunfire followed an apparently computer-generated female voice from the RV reciting a minute-by-minute countdown to an impending bomb blast.
Police scrambled to evacuate nearby homes and buildings and called for a bomb squad, which was still en route to the scene when the RV blew up just outside an AT&T Inc office building where it had been parked.
Police later posted a photo of the motor home, which they said had arrived in the area about four hours prior to the explosion.
Fire officials said three people were hospitalized with relatively minor injuries and were in stable condition. Authorities said police likely prevented more casualties by acting quickly to clear the area of bystanders.
The explosion occurred about two blocks from Lower Broadway, where some of Nashville’s famous live music venues are located. The Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry and just three blocks from the blast scene, was undamaged. The Gaylord Opryland and current Grand Ole Opry complexes, which sit outside the downtown area, were not impacted.
The explosion’s damage to AT&T’s facilities caused widespread telephone, internet and fiber-optic TV service outages in central Tennessee and parts of several neighboring states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.
AT&T’s efforts to restore services overnight were waylaid when a fire reignited at the company’s downtown office at the site of the blast, but the company said in a statement on Saturday it was deploying portable cell sites to downtown Nashville and across the region.