A photo, tweeted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), showed what appears to be a vehicle on fire in Bishop Street in the city centre’s Foyle area just after 8pm.
“STAY AWAY. Suspected car bomb,” it added.
Nobody is believed to have been injured.
Police warned that officers are concerned about a second car on the street, as they widened their cordon.
“As far as we know no one injured,” the PSNI in Foyle said.
“There is another car we are not happy about. There are ongoing necessary evacuations.
“If you live in Bishop Street or Bishop Street Without look at potentially making preparations to leave.”
Hotels, bars and clubs in the area, busy on a Saturday night, were evacuated.
Michael Ferguson was in his house nearby when he heard and felt the bomb.
He told Sky News: “There was a very large boom and everything started to shake for just a second as the shock passed over.
“We went out into the street and couldn’t see anything at first but then we could see the police up on Bishop Street.
“Everything sort of shook, my desk was shaking, I was shaking, my chair was shaking.”
Another witness, who wished to remain anonymous, told Sky News she heard the blast despite being a 10 minute walk away from the courthouse.
“I felt and heard the explosion from Creggan Road, about a 10 minute walk away,” she said.
“Friends in the next street from the blast said they could feel it in their flat, they said it shook them.”
Sky News’ senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins said the sound “would have been hauntingly familiar to people in the city”.
“Dissident Republican groups have been active in terms of paramilitary shootings and lowscale terror attacks in recent years,” he said.
“Tension is already high over the lack of a government and the fear of the return of a hard border because of Brexit.”
Sinn Fein MP for Foyle, Elisha McCallion, quickly condemned the blast.
“This incident has shocked the local community,” she said.
“In particular, there are many elderly residents who live in the area who have been alarmed by this.
“Thankfully no one appears to have been injured.
“Derry is a city moving forward and no-one wants this type of incident. It is not representative of the city.
“I would encourage anyone with information about this incident to bring it to the police.”
Gary Middleton, DUP member of the legislative assembly for Foyle, called it a “disgraceful act of terrorism” which is a “deeply disturbing…throwback to the past”.
He said the PSNI confirmed there were no injuries.
:: Anybody with information about the incident should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
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