Betsy Williams recalls being awoken just after 4:30 a.m. Friday by what sounded like gunfire from an automatic weapon.
After Williams called 911 and police cordoned off Second Avenue in downtown Nashville, a “computerized message” from a parked RV captured her attention.
“Evacuate now,” Williams remembers the female voice saying – over and over again.
Williams told CNN hours after the vehicle exploded, injuring three, that she and wife Kim clearly heard another message emanating from the RV.
It was a countdown.
Explosion rocks downtown Nashville
“This vehicle will explode in 15 minutes,” the countdown said, according to Williams.
Then, “This vehicle will explode in 14 minutes.”
The countdown caused Williams and her family to immediately heed the warning and start making their way downstairs from their third-floor apartment.
“When the time started, that’s when we went, ‘oh sh*t’,” she said. “We need to get out of here.”
Dressed only in their pajamas, they made their way to their car – with their cat – and over the Cumberland River and to Nissan Stadium. There, she says they had a clear view of the area and could see if any explosion would occur.
Thinking they sat there long enough and that it was clearly a hoax, Williams said they made their way back home. As they were driving down Second Avenue before they reached the cordoned-off area, they saw the explosion in front of them, Williams said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “It shook everything.”
“We do believe this to have been an intentional act,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. “Significant damage has been done to the infrastructure there on 2nd Avenue North.”
Another witness described the explosion as being in “the end of times.”
Buck McCoy said the windows of his downtown Nashville residence right across from the explosion were blown in and water started pouring from the ceiling.
“I must have an angel because I survived this,” he told CNN. “It was pretty horrendous.”
McCoy said he was woken up by what he thought were gunshots about 10 minutes before the explosion. He got up and looked out the window, he said, but went back to bed when he didn’t see anything.
McCoy says he’s thankful that he didn’t get anything more than scratches to his face, hands and feet.
“It was like a movie,” McCoy said. “It really felt like the end of times.”
When he looked outside, trees were down everywhere and broken glass littered the street, he said.
“Everything on the street was fire,” he says. “There were three cars that were fully engulfed.”
McCoy saw people filing out of their apartment with their animals.
He tried to make his way back to his apartment to look for his cat, but firefighters told him to get as far away from the area as possible.
Williams said that after the explosion they could see the back of their building.
“It was loaded with glass and shards and big pieces of wood and metal where everything had fallen,” she said.
Laughing at the irony, Williams remembers saying on Christmas Eve that she wanted to “spend all day Christmas in my pajamas.”