Police and federal agents searched for the charred site of an explosion on Christmas Day in Nashville on Saturday and tried to determine how and why a camper blew up and injured three people in the heart of America’s country music capital.
The blaze, which was heard from miles away, destroyed several vehicles, damaged more than 40 companies and left a trail of shards of glass around the area.
The RV, parked on a street in central Tennessee’s largest city, exploded at dawn on Friday moments after police responded to gunfire, noticed the recreational vehicle and heard an automatic message emanating from it warning of a bomb.
The detonators and whether anyone was inside the RV when it exploded were not immediately known, but investigators investigated what they thought could be human remains found near the explosion, police said.
Police offered no possible motive, and there was no claim of responsibility, although Nashville Metropolitan Police Department officials called the explosion a “deliberate act” and promised to determine its origin.
Dozens of agents from the FBI and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the ash disaster area on Saturday. Inside the area, which was closed to traffic, parked cars and trees and an exploded water pipe that sprayed overnight had covered trees in an ice layer.
A total of 41 companies were damaged, said Mayor John Cooper.
All windows came in from the living room to the bedroom. The front door came loose, says Buck McCoy, who lives in the neighborhood where the explosion occurred, to the local TV station WKRN. “I got blood from my face and on my side and on my legs and a little on my feet.”
McCoy told CNN that he and some neighbors returned to the area on Saturday in search of pets they were forced to leave behind.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he was touring the disaster zone on Saturday, saying in a Twitter message that it was a “miracle” that no one was killed. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Lee called for a federal state of emergency for his state to help with relief efforts.
A recording, then an explosion
To the cryptic nature of Friday’s event was the eerie introduction described by witnesses – a shaking of gunfire followed an apparently computer-generated female voice from RV reciting a minute-by-minute countdown to an impending bomb blast.
Police encrypted to evacuate nearby homes and buildings and called for a bomb squad, which was still on its way to the scene when the RV exploded just outside an AT&T Inc office building where it had been parked.
Police later published a photo of the camper, which they said had arrived in the area about four hours before the explosion.
Fire officials said three people were in hospital with relatively minor injuries and were in stable condition. Authorities said police were likely to prevent more deaths by acting quickly to clear the area of spectators.
The blast occurred about two blocks from Lower Broadway, home to some of Nashville’s famous live music venues. Ryman Auditorium, formerly home of the Grand Ole Opry and just three blocks from the explosion scene, was unharmed. Gaylord Opryland and the current Grand Ole Opry complex, located outside the city center, were not affected.
The explosion damaged AT & T’s facilities, causing extensive telephone, Internet and fiber optic TV 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 released when a fire resumed at the company’s headquarters at the site of the explosion, but the company said in a statement on Saturday that it was distributing portable cell sites to downtown Nashville and across the region.