NASHVILLE – Authorities believe an explosion that occurred in downtown early Christmas morning, rattling residents for miles, was an “intentional act” sparked by a vehicle.
Police responded to reports of a suspicious vehicle parked outside the AT&T building just before 6 a.m. Upon arrival, police said an officer “had reason” to alert the department’s hazardous devices unit, which was en route, when a “significant explosion” happened.
Three people were hospitalized with injuries, police said. At least 20 buildings were damaged, Nashville Mayor John Cooper said.
The fire department confirmed a bomb squad was on the scene with an active investigation by Metro police and federal agencies. The department asked residents and others to avoid the area.
The sound of the explosion could be heard from miles away, and people reported windows shaking from South and East Nashville.
Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement that the state would provide needed resources to determine what happened and who was responsible.
Cooper said he toured the damage, describing broken glass and water mains with insulation “blown up” into the trees.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” he said. The downtown area will be “sealed off” for further investigation and to make sure everything is “completely safe,” he said.
“One more event in Nashville’s 2020,” Cooper said.
Images and videos taken in the area showed flames and smoke. Alarms inside several buildings were heard going off, and water poured into some buildings, causing structural damage and broken windows. Debris and shattered glass were seen flying over a wide area.
Trees lining Second Avenue were blackened from the incident.
Andrew Carr, who is staying at the Viridian apartments on Fourth Avenue and Church Street, told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network, he jumped out of bed when he heard what sounded like a “giant thunderclap.”
He looked out the window and said he saw a “huge fireball” rising up behind an AT&T building on Second Avenue and Commerce Street – describing it almost as “wide as the building itself.”
Carr said for the next hour he and his family watched the black smoke plumes rise into the sky and could later see debris on top of the AT&T building.
Residents in the apartment building, he said, have been put in lockdown.
The owner of the nearby Nashville Downtown Hostel told The Tennessean guests were evacuated to Nissan Stadium for shelter. He said he got a call early Friday from his staff who reported hearing a “loud boom” and the fire alarm going off.
He said the hostel is damaged but did not go into details.
This is a developing story.
Contributing: The Associated Press