Vehicle explodes at Niagara Falls, forcing US-Canada border closings

Reuters November 23,2023 - 06:46 AM

Vehicle explodes Niagara

Police blockade roads after an incident at the Rainbow Bridge U.S. border crossing with Canada, in Niagara Falls, New York, U.S. November 22, 2023. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

WASHINGTON —A vehicle exploded on Wednesday on the Rainbow Bridge linking Canada with the United States at Niagara Falls, prompting authorities to close that border crossing and the three others between western New York and southern Ontario, officials said.

The vehicle’s driver and a passenger were killed in the explosion, and one U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer was injured, a person with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

Investigators ruled out a bomb as the cause, but the possibility of terrorism had yet to be discounted because circumstances of the incident remained undetermined, according to the source, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss the matter.

“It’s not being ruled out because we really have no idea what happened,” said the source.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said that according to an FBI briefing he received, “Initial reports indicate the two people were killed in the car, but nothing’s been determined on their identity or motive.”

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force was mobilized to investigate the incident, according to New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

Initial indications from the CBP were that the incident was caused by a reckless driver whose actions resulted in a crash and fire, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

While CBP officials were not ruling out a deliberate attack, preliminary evidence did not suggest that, they said.

The incident unfolded at a time of heightened security concerns around the world stemming from the conflict in the Middle East and at the peak of U.S. holiday travel on the eve of Thanksgiving celebrations.

Buffalo International Airport was closed to all departing and arriving international flights following the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration said on its website.

The Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center said it evaluated and treated a single patient with non-life-threatening injuries related to the incident. That patient had been discharged, the hospital said.


Eyewitness and law enforcement accounts reported by other news media described a car speeding onto the bridge and careening out of control before crashing and bursting into flames.

The Niagara Gazette newspaper, citing law enforcement sources, said the car sped onto the bridge plaza, went through a fence separating the inbound lanes from the outbound lanes, and toward the inspection lanes, where it exploded.

CNN, citing an unnamed source and showing video from the scene, reported that the vehicle was approaching from the U.S. side of the border, accelerated, hit a curb and went airborne before catching fire and exploding.

Eyewitness Mike Guenther told a Buffalo television station WGRZ-TV he was walking near the bridge with his wife when the car traveling from the U.S. side at high speed, struck a fence at the crossing and was catapulted into the air before exploding.

“He was flying, over 100 miles an hour,” said Guenther, who was visiting from Kitchener, Ontario, adding that the vehicle was “fish-tailing” out of control before it crashed.

“It was a ball of fire, 30 or 40 feet high, never seen anything like it,” Guenther said. He described the car as a luxury sedan.

The Rainbow Bridge and all three other border crossings along the Niagara River between western New York and southern Ontario – the Peace Bridge, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Whirlpool Bridge – were shut down indefinitely as a precaution, the New York governor’s office said.

Other international crossings remained open on “heightened alert status,” according to the governor.

Three of the bridges closed after the incident carry vehicles only across the Niagara River between Ontario and New York and are among the busiest border crossings in the world. The Whirlpool Bridge carries railroad traffic and vehicles.

Security measures were escalated at airports and railways in the region managed by the Niagara-Frontier Transit Authority, the governor’s office said.

Security also was tightened at various locations around New York City, Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

“This is obviously a very serious situation. The government of Canada is taking this situation extremely seriously,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa. “We are in close contact with American authorities. I will be speaking with the U.S. homeland security secretary shortly.,” LeBlanc said.

The explosion was under investigation by agents from the FBI field office in Buffalo, New York, the agency in a statement on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“The FBI is coordinating with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in this investigation,” the FBI statement said. “As this situation is very fluid, that’s all we can say at this time.”

Hochul issued a separate statement on X saying, New York state police, at her direction was “actively working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York.”

Law enforcement teams in Canada also were “actively engaged in assessing the situation,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a post on X.

Border agency officials in the United States had no immediate comment, while their Canadian counterparts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Representatives for the U.S. State Department also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported border closures.

The White House was closely monitoring the situation, as well, a spokesperson said.


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TAGS: bombing, Canada, crime, US

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