The New York Police Department said on Saturday the incident that caused Times Square to be evacuated was what appeared to be a car bomb, which was being dismantled by officers on the scene.
"This appears to be a car bomb that the bomb squad is in the process of dismantling," police spokesman Paul Browne said.
"We do not know the motive."
Browne said an NYPD mounted policeman spotted a box smoking in the back of the sport utility vehicle and that the area was evacuated shortly after that.
Times Square was eerily empty for several blocks on Saturday night, the busiest night of the week on the Great White Way as tourists and theater-goers watched from behind barricades as anti-terrorism units swarmed the scene.
Browne said a vehicle had been left in Times Square, with smoke seen coming from it. Browne said a bomb squad responded and a small fire was extinguished.
The SUV was parked very close to a production of "The Lion King" on 45th Street. Women in evening gowns were among the crowd on one of the warmest nights of the year and the busiest night of the week for Broadway theaters in the area.
Vehicle and pedestrian traffic was very heavy on streets outside the evacuation zone, including Sixth and Eighth Avenues. All intersections in the area were blocked by police and fire department vehicles, lights flashing.
Another New York City firefighter who said he arrived early on the scene described the vehicle as a dark-colored SUV, and said it was parked at the corner of 45th Street and Seventh Avenue. He confirmed the vehicle was smoking and also said he saw "a flash" from the back of the SUV. The firefighter said a "mini-explosion" occurred around 6:30 pm.
"The SUV was smoking. There was a flash and we put two and two together" and an evacuation was ordered, he said.
The bomb squad remained at the scene as of 11 p.m., including a firefighter in a bomb suit. A robot was being used to investigate the suspicious SUV.
EXPLOSIONS WERE WATER CANNONS
Reuters reporters on the scene said they heard an explosion from the area of the SUV around 9:15 pm. An NYPD community affairs officer said that and another small explosion heard by bystanders were the sound of water cannons aimed at the vehicle in an attempt to break through the glass.
Two fire trucks were also at the scene, prepared to douse the vehicle with water if needed, the firefighter said.
Police allowed some people to enter theaters to view Broadway shows in the vicinity but later blocked other theatergoers from entering. Some hotel guests were allowed back to their rooms.
At least some of the shows were allowed to go on.
The square itself was mostly evacuated by 8 pm, according to Reuters reporters on the scene. Police had evacuated an area stretching from about 42nd Street up to 47th Street and including Seventh Avenue and Broadway.
A Reuters reporter on the scene said police began to broaden the area evacuated around 9:30 pm, with crowds on 45th Street being pushed back from Times Square to Eighth Avenue to the west and Sixth Avenue to the east.
Tourists in the area expressed annoyance and amusement. Nam Vu, 24, said he had arrived by bus in New York at 8 am from Canada and was prevented from meeting a friend at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square.
"I feel like I'm on a TV show," he said. "Where is (actor) Denzel Washington?"
People inside theaters and restaurants on Times Square were generally allowed to stay, or to depart the area, but only police and firefighters were being allowed in.