LEWISTON — Police evacuated buildings, closed off a section of Lincoln Street and called in a bomb squad Friday afternoon when a suspicious package was spotted near a gas line behind Rails Restaurant.

Three hours after the item was discovered, an explosion rocked Lincoln Street as a bomb team robot disposed of the package with a water cannon. Police said the package, described as tube-shaped and filled with sand, was not an explosive, although it had been made to look like one as part of a hoax.

Lewiston police were investigating the origin of the package.

A passerby noticed the package, described as tubular, shortly after 2 p.m. Police arrived minutes later and began blocking off parking lots and other areas with long stretches of yellow crime-scene tape.

Lincoln Street was blocked to traffic between Main and Chestnut streets. Parts of Oxford Street were also closed, and police suspected it might be hours before the roads were opened again.

Dozens of people who work nearby were unable to get to their cars at the end of their workdays.

“I came out and they were just starting to rope it off,” said Angela Mills, who works at TD Bank and had parked near Rails. “They said it’s potentially an explosive, so we’ll just let my car sit there and I’ll go for a walk.”

Another woman works inside the mill and came out for her Lexus shortly after 3 p.m. No go, police said. Her car, too, was stuck behind the police tape.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” she said, “to have something this volatile so close by.”

Lewiston House of Pizza, next door to Rails, was evacuated shortly after police arrived and its parking lot was blocked off by crime-scene tape.

By 4 p.m., traffic was backing up on Main Street in both Lewiston and Auburn as a result of the street closures. A Unitil Gas worker was at the scene and Maine State Police were starting to arrive. Lewiston firefighters were there as was the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Police said when they first arrived, they were able to see the device, but they could not discern exactly what it was.

“We’ve taken a quick look at it,” police Sgt. David St. Pierre said, “but obviously because of the nature of it, we have to take every precaution and protect the public.”

A short time later  the bomb team sent their robot to investigate the device. It was moved a few feet away from Rails and, at about 5:30 p.m., destroyed with the water cannon. There were a few gasps from the crowds standing around to watch, but it became clear fairly quickly that the explosion had been controlled.

“It appears to be a hoax device,” St. Pierre said. “There’s nothing that the community is danger of at this time.”

The placing of the item, he said, is being investigated as a case of criminal threatening or terrorizing.

“It appears it was placed there to threaten or intimidate someone,” St. Pierre said.

Before the item was destroyed, dozens stood around the Bates Mill complex, watching the action. They were not allowed to drive away while the bomb team was working. Most people who were inconvenienced were OK with the police response.

“It’s a nice day, this is something interesting and we’ll get through it,” said  Christoper Pulk, a Litchfield man who works for TD Bank. “Things happen. Better to be safe and every body goes home. There’s no reason to get upset.”

“With all the bad stuff going on around the world, it doesn’t hurt to be careful,” said David Giasson, who had been riding by on his bicycle when he came upon the action. “I watch the news and there’s stuff going on all over the place. Better safe than sorry.”



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