Authorities have found “tissue” which could be human remains near the site of an explosion in Nashville in the US, according to the city’s police chief.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake told a news conference the tissue samples were being examined to establish whether or not they were human, but he refused to confirm whether they had come from inside or outside the vehicle that exploded.
The blast was caused by a motorhome that had broadcast a warning to bystanders that it was going to detonate in 15 minutes, police said.
Officers scrambled to evacuate nearby homes after being alerted to the security risk.
It happened at 6.30am on Christmas Day in an area of central Nashville, Tennessee, packed with bars, restaurants and shops.
It sent shattered glass and debris flying through the air as black smoke and flames billowed from the vehicle.
A loud boom was heard and buildings shook, sending many people into a panic.
Three people have been taken to hospital although none of them were reported to have significant injuries.
In a news conference after the incident, a spokesperson for Nashville Police Department said officers were first called to reports of gunshots.
“They encountered an RV that had a recording saying that a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes,” they said.
“Officers upon hearing that decided to evacuate the buildings nearby and began knocking on doors, making announcements… Shortly after that, the RV exploded.
“We had one officer that was knocked to the ground. Another officer was fine.”
Nashville’s mayor John Cooper confirmed that the explosion was a “deliberate” act, although the motive is not yet known.
He said the authorities would react with “anger and determination and resolve” to bring “whoever was responsible for this to justice”.
He added that the bomb was intended to bring “chaos and fear in this season of peace and hope”.
And he praised the six police officers who “ran to danger” in order to clear the area of people.
Mayor Cooper said he had issued a localised state of emergency, which covers the area bounded by James Robertson Parkway, 4th Avenue North, Broadway and the Cumberland River.
There will be a three day-long curfew within this area.
Emergency crews have been at the scene, as well as state and federal authorities.
An investigation has been launched by federal authorities, including the FBI.
“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 police spokesperson Don Aaron.
The motorhome had arrived at the location of the explosion at 1.22am on Christmas Day, police said.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the scene of the blast, said it “felt like a bomb – it was that big”.
“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 continued.
“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.”
In videos he posted on Facebook, water was seen pouring down his ceiling while alarms sounded in the background and people cried out in distress.
A fire is also visible on the street outside.
Some people have experienced phone service outages since as the blast happened next to provider AT&T’s building.
In a tweet, AT&T said: “Service for some customers in Nashville & surrounding areas may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning.
“We are in contact with law enforcement & working as quickly as possible to restore service.”
Flights out of Nashville International Airport were also temporarily halted because of telecommunications issues caused by the explosion.
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the priority now was to “make sure everybody is accounted for and to make sure the spread of the fire doesn’t go any further”.