NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Hundreds of customers and air traffic control at Nashville’s airport were impacted by an AT&T outage caused by an explosion that took place in downtown Nashville early Christmas morning, according to the company and the FAA.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport due to telecommunications issues associated with the explosion in downtown Nashville. Operations at the airport resumed at 6:50 p.m. local time but the airport advised travelers about delays and to check with their airlines on the status of their flights.
The explosion shook the largely deserted streets of downtown Nashville, shattering windows, damaging buildings and wounding three people. Authorities said they believed the blast was intentional.
The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook streets over from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T, which is one block away from the company's office tower.
"We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention," police spokesman Don Aaron said.
AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.
"Service for some customers in Nashville and the surrounding areas may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service," an emailed statement from AT&T read.
As of 1:30 p.m. CT, about 313 Nashville customers were without service, according to DownDetector.com.
The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky, including Bowling Green about 65 miles north of Nashville. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Murfreesboro and Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles east of Nashville.
"We’re putting the full-force of our disaster recovery efforts into responding to this morning’s explosion in Nashville, including bringing in regional resources and our National Disaster Recovery teams," according to an AT&T news release.
The company said it is working with local law enforcement to restore power to its damaged facilities, but it will take some time.
"Given the damage to our facility it will take time to restore service. We have already rerouted significant traffic from this facility and are bringing in other equipment, including numerous portable cell sites to the area," the release continued.
The FAA confirmed that the air traffic control tower at the Nashville International Airport lost internet and phone capabilities at 1 p.m. local time.
"This outage led the FAA’s Memphis Air Traffic Control Center, which handles high-altitude traffic in and out of Nashville, to put a ground stop in place, beginning at 2 p.m. local time," according to an emailed statement from the FAA. "Pilots never lost touch with air traffic control."
The ground stopped was officially lifted at 3 p.m. local time, the FAA confirmed.
Officers were originally responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered a recreational vehicle blaring a recording that said a potential bomb was to detonate in 15 minutes. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad.
"Shortly after that, the RV exploded," Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a midday news conference.
Surveillance video published on a Twitter account Friday that appeared to be recorded from across the street captured an audio recording that included the warning, "... if you can hear this message, evacuate now." The blast was captured on the surveillance video seconds later.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, said spokesman Joel Siskovic. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.
The Associated Press and Storyful contributed to this report.