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National
AP
Downtown Nashville explosion knocks communications offline

NASHVILLE — A recreational vehicle parked in the deserted streets of downtown Nashville exploded early Christmas morning, causing widespread communications outages that took down police emergency systems and grounded holiday travel at the city’s airport.

Police were responding to a report of shots fired Friday when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes, Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad. The RV exploded shortly afterward, Drake said.

“This morning’s attack on our community was intended to create chaos and fear in this season of peace and hope. But Nashvillians have proven time and time again that the spirit of our city cannot be broken,” Mayor John Cooper said at a news conference after issuing a curfew for the area.

Police believe the blast was intentional but don’t yet know a motive or target, and Drake noted that officials had not received any threats before the explosion.

The chief said investigators at the scene “have found tissue that we believe could be remains, but we’ll have that examined and let you know at that time.” Police could not say whether the remains potentially came from someone inside the RV.

Three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition Friday evening, Cooper said.

A Twitter account published surveillance video that appeared to be across the street from the blast and captured the warning issuing from the RV, “... if you can hear this message, evacuate now,” seconds before the explosion.

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 and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.

“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.

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.

The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky.

Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles east of Nashville.

AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion.

The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. 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.

A Philadelphia man staying in a nearby hotel said that when he heard the blast, he knew it wasn’t harmless.

“We tried to rationalize it that it was an earthquake or something, but it was obvious it wasn’t an earthquake,” Joseph Fafara said.

When he went to look at the damage, police barricades had already been put in place.

Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water pouring down the ceiling of his home. Alarms blare in the background along with cries of people in distress. A fire is visible in the street outside. McCoy said he heard gunfire 15 minutes before the explosion rocked his building, set cars in the street on fire and blew trees apart.

“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 said.

“It felt like a bomb. It was that big,” he told The Associated Press.

President Donald Trump has been briefed, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere.

The U.S. Justice Department said Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible.”

The American Red Cross of Tennessee announced that it was working with officials to open a shelter for victims.

———

Associated Press writer Thalia Beaty in New York contributed. Balsamo and Tucker reported from Washington.


If you’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas, then Friday was a dream come true. The region received its first white Christmas in years as several inches of snow fell Thursday evening. Scattered snow flurries continued throughout the day on Friday. In this photo worthy of a Christmas card, Norton’s Christmas tree sports a festive new decoration that just couldn’t be supplied by the city employees who put the tree up on Park Avenue in mid-November. The region’s coat of snow should stick around at least one more day, with the high today expected to be in the 30s and another frigid dip into the teens on tap for tonight. More snow photos on Page A10.


News
COVID-19 in SWVA: daily cases near 70

Far Southwest Virginia’s number of new COVID-19 cases neared 70 with three new deaths, according to Friday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 69 cases and the three deaths for totals of 4,532 and 114 deaths during the pandemic.

Wise County saw 29 cases and two deaths for totals of 1,847 and 55 deaths. Lee County had 23 cases and one death for 1,385 and 29 deaths.

Scott County had 14 cases for 1,153 and 29 deaths. Norton added three cases for 147 cases and one death.

The VDH reported 4,078 new cases and 29 deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 327,993 cases and 4,820 deaths.

Testing and test percent positivity updates for the district and statewide were not available on Friday.

Two new COVID-19 outbreaks were reported in Scott County, according to the VDH’s new Outbreaks by Selected Exposure Settings dashboard on Friday. Weber City Early Head Start reported an outbreak (still in progress) with six cases and no deaths among children or staff. NOVA Health and Rehabilitation, which closed an outbreak in the fall, reported another one Nov. 24 with 105 staff and/or resident cases and 11 deaths. An outbreak was also reported Oct. 21 at Ridgecrest Manor Nursing and Rehab. It is still in progress with 110 cases — a one-case increase from Dec. 18 — and fewer than five deaths.

In Lee County, an outbreak at Chestnut Grove Assisted Living remains in progress with 62 cases and no deaths — the same numbers as on Dec. 18. An outbreak at Lee Health and Rehabilitation is pending closure with 146 cases and 18 deaths — a two-case increase from Dec. 18’s report.

An outbreak at Heritage Hall Big Stone Gap in Wise County was pending closure in Friday’s report with no change in Dec. 18’s numbers of 219 cases and 34 deaths.

Red Onion State Prison had 24 inmate cases and added six cases for 15 active staff/contractor cases on Friday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at one inmate case and added three cases for eight active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and two active staff/contractor cases.

According to Friday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — was ranked as fluctuating after a nine-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as decreasing based on a 19-day decrease in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. For seven-day case incidence, Lee County and Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk, Wise County Schools higher-risk and Scott County Schools lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.


Politics
AP
Trump golfs in Florida as COVID relief hangs in the balance

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump spent his Christmas golfing in Florida as a government shutdown looms and COVID relief hangs in the balance.

Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach for the holidays, had no events on his public schedule after throwing the future of a massive COVID relief and government funding bill into question. Failure to sign the bill, which arrived in Florida on Thursday night, could deny relief checks to millions of Americans on the brink and force a government shutdown in the midst of the pandemic.

The White House declined to share details of the president’s schedule, though he played golf Friday with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump was briefed on the explosion in Nashville early Friday that authorities said appeared to be intentional, but the president said nothing publicly about it in the hours after.

Trump tweeted that he planned to make “a short speech to service members from all over the world” by video conference Friday to celebrate the holiday, but declared: “Fake News not invited!” Without giving details, the White House said only that Trump would work “tirelessly” during the holidays and has “many meetings and calls.”

Trump’s vacation came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, eleventh-hour demand that an end-of-year spending bill that congressional leaders spent months negotiating give most Americans $2,000 COVID relief checks — far more than the $600 members of his own party had agreed to. The idea was swiftly rejected by House Republi- cans in a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.

The bipartisan compromise had been considered a done deal and had won sweeping approval in the House and Senate this week after the White House assured GOP leaders that Trump supported it. If he refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid checks and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the most dire stretch of the pandemic.

“Made many calls and had meetings at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida. Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600?” he tweeted after leaving the golf course Friday afternoon. “It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!”

Graham tweeted Friday night that Trump was still intent on getting changes in yearend legislation before signing it.

“After spending some time with President @realDonaldTrump today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection.” he said in his tweet “Both are reasonable demands, and I hope Congress is listening. The biggest winner would be the American people.”

In addition to the COVID aid, Graham was referring to another Trump priority: to get a repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a law that protects online platforms from liability for content posted by users.

Trump’s decision to attack the COVID bill has been seen, at least in part, as political punishment for what he considers insufficient backing by congressional Republicans of his campaign to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election with unfounded claims of voter fraud.

“At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren’t the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?” Trump tweeted Thursday.

“I will NEVER FORGET!” he later added.

Trump for weeks now has refused to accept the results of the election and has been pushing new, increasingly outrageous schemes to try to overturn the results. He has been egged on by allies like his lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who accompanied the president to Florida aboard Air Force One.

Trump has provided no credible evidence to support his election claims, which have been refuted by a long list of officials, among them judges, former Attorney General William Barr, Republican governors and local election administrators.

Meanwhile, the nation continues to reel as the coronavirus spreads, with record infections and hospitalizations and more than 327,000 now dead. And millions are now going through the holidays alone or struggling to make ends meet without adequate income, food or shelter thanks to the pandemic’s economic toll.

The Justice Department said Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen also was briefed on the Nashville blast and directed that all department resources be made available to help. The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said.

Three people were treated in hospitals after a recreational vehicle, blaring a recorded warning of an imminent detonation, exploded in Nashville’s downtown. The blast caused widespread communications outages that took down police emergency systems and grounded flights at the city’s airport.

To mark the holiday, the president and first lady Melania Trump tweeted out a pre-recorded video message in which they wished Americans a merry Christmas and thanked first responders and members of the military.

“As you know, this Christmas is different than years past,” said Mrs. Trump, who focused on the acts of “kindness and courage” the pandemic had inspired .

Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. “It is a truly a Christmas miracle,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a shutdown. Democrats will call House lawmakers back to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump’s $2,000 proposal, though it would probably die in the Republican-controlled Senate. They are also considering a vote Monday on a stop-gap measure at least to avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.

In addition to the relief checks, the COVID bill that passed would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, provide a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, and provide money for health care providers and to help with COVID vaccine distribution.


Moon Valley Pilea is a moisture-loving plant that prefers high humidity but will tolerate average home humidity.


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