NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec 26 (Reuters) – Police and federal agents in Nashville sought clues on Saturday to determine how and why a motor home was blown to pieces in an apparent bombing on Christmas Day that injured three people and damaged dozens of buildings in the heart of America’s country music capital.
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 in the area 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.
Agents of the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting in the probe.
Adding to the cryptic nature of the 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 bombing.
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 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.
The fiery blast, heard for miles away, destroyed a number of other vehicles parked nearby, shattered windows and heavily damaged several adjacent buildings. Mayor John Cooper said a total of 41 businesses were damaged.
Fire officials said three people were taken to hospitals with relatively minor injuries and were listed in stable condition. Authorities said quick action by police to clear the area of bystanders likely prevented more casualties.
Damage to AT&T facilities from the blast caused widespread disruptions of telephone, internet and fiber optic TV service in central Tennessee and parts of several neighboring states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia, the company said.
Police Chief John Drake said authorities had received no threats of an attack prior to the reports of gunfire at the outset of the incident.
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.
“It’s a startling thing to have it happen in Nashville so close, and on Christmas, but we understand that America is in very tumultuous times right now,” country singer John Rich, who owns a honky-tonk club a block from the explosion, told Reuters.
AT&T outage: Internet, 911 disrupted, planes grounded after Nashville explosion
Widespread 911 issues in the Nashville area were reported after AT&T wireless and internet service were disrupted on Friday hours following a massive explosion downtown.
AT&T internet and phone service were disrupted in the area about 12 p.m. Friday. The outages continued into the evening.
Users around the country reported disruptions in service, but there was a concentration in the Nashville area and Middle Tennessee, growing in reach from Kentucky to Alabama as more reports came in.
911 access, flights grounded
A handful of local police departments reported the outage was disrupting 911 access, including some non-emergency lines, in their jurisdictions. Most took to social media to share landlines and alternate access numbers where residents could seek emergency assistance.
Rutherford County locations, including the Sheriff’s Office and Smyrna Police reported 911 coming back online around 7:10 p.m. Officials said there remained issues with getting the names and location of callers through the 911 system.
“911 has been re-established, but your name and location may not be seen by dispatchers,” Smyrna Police posted on Twitter. “Please give your name and location to dispatchers immediately.”
- LaVergne – 615-471-1103
- Smyrna – 615-930-2067
- Murfreesboro – 629-201-5056
- Rutherford County Sheriff – 615-546-5793
- Middle TN State University – 615-898-2424
- Williamson County – 615-790-5555
- Brentwood – 615-371-0160
- Overton County – 931-871-0292
- Pickett County – 931-871-0292
- Cannon County – 615-563-4322
- Mt. Juliet – 615-406-5849
- Gallatin – 615-561-2080
- Wilson County – 615-449-7610, 615-449-7243, 615-443-4255
- Lebanon Police Department– 615-444-2323
- Sumner County – 615-712-4335
- Putnam County – 931-261-6219
- Springfield – 615-384-8422, ext. 3
- Goodlettsville – 615-851-2216
- Coffee County – 931-728-2991 or 931-455-3411
- Clay County – 931-243-3266
- Cumberland County – 931-484-2203
- DeKalb County – 615-215-3000
- Fentress County – 931-752-0911
- Hickman County – Police/Sheriff: 931-729-6143, ext. 2018 or 2017. For ambulance: 931-994-8943, 931-729-4922 or 931-670-0454
- Jackson County – 931-239-7524
- Smith County – 615-735-2121
- Trousdale County – 615-374-3994
- White County – 931-738-7111
- Trigg County, KY – 270-522-4636
- Christian County, KY – 270-852-2731
- Calloway County, KY – 270-753-3151
The Federal Aviation Administration halted flights leaving Nashville International Airport temporarily around 2:30 p.m. Friday after “telecommunications issues” affected the airport.
A statement said most flights were resuming just before 6 p.m. but the issues continued to impact flight service. Officials recommend travelers check with their airlines for flight status.
✈️ TRAVEL ALERT: Due to telecommunications issues associated with this morning’s incident in downtown Nashville, FAA has temporarily halted flights out of BNA. We expect the issues to be resolved & anticipate service to resume by 3 pm CT. An update will be provided by 3:30 pm CT.
— Fly Nashville (@Fly_Nashville) December 25, 2020
AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for further information on when the outage would be resolved.
The company said in a public statement around 5 p.m. that they were bringing disaster recovery efforts into the Nashville area in response to the explosion, including regional resources and National Disaster Recovery teams.
The statement indicates there was damage to the facility and access to power was an issue.
“Power is essential to restoring wireless and wireline communications, and we are working with law enforcement to get access to our equipment and make needed repair,” the statement said. “There are serious logistical challenges to working in a disaster area and we will make measurable progress in the hours and days ahead.
“We’re grateful for the work of law enforcement as they investigate this event while enabling us to restore service for our customers.”