Two killed in vehicle explosion on bridge connecting New York and Canada

Car passing through border checkpoint reportedly speeds up when driver told to submit to secondary check, then crashes into barrier and explodes

Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, in Niagara Falls, New York, November 22, 2023. (Derek Gee/ The Buffalo News via AP)
Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, in Niagara Falls, New York, November 22, 2023. (Derek Gee/ The Buffalo News via AP)

NEAR NIAGRA FALLS, New York — US-Canada border crossings near Niagara Falls were closed Wednesday as terrorism investigators responded to a vehicle explosion at Rainbow Bridge, local and state authorities said.

Two people were killed in the blast, according to US media citing authorities. Their identities were not yet clear.

The cause of the incident was not immediately clear, but New York Governor Kathy Hochul said state police and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were monitoring all points of entry into the state.

US media cited law enforcement sources as saying there were two people in the car, which had passed through one border checkpoint, where it was selected for a secondary check.

The car then sped up, crashed into a barrier and exploded, the sources said, stressing that it was unclear if the blast was the result of a device.

“I am traveling to Buffalo to meet with law enforcement and emergency responders and will update New Yorkers when more information becomes available,” Hochul posted on social media.

“This is obviously a very serious situation in Niagara Falls,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Parliament, as he excused himself from Question Period in the House of Commons to be briefed further.

“We are taking this extraordinary seriously,” he said, adding that “additional measures” were being contemplated and activated at border crossings across Canada.

Trudeau’s office said he had been briefed and was in contact with US law enforcement. Multiple Canadian agencies were supporting the investigation, it added.

Fire damage is visible to the customs plaza structure at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing in Niagara Falls, New York, November 22, 2023. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP)

The blast happened on the US side of the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the two countries across the Niagara River. Three other bridges between western New York and Ontario were quickly closed as a precaution, and the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport began security checks on all cars and told passengers to expect additional screenings.

Witnesses reported hearing a deafening explosion and seeing a large cloud of smoke near the inspections station.

Ivan Vitalii, a visitor from Ukraine, told the Niagara Gazette that he and a friend were at a nearby convenience store on the US side when they saw a car exit a parking lot and travel toward the bridge.

“We heard something smash,” he said. “We saw fire and big, black smoke.”

Ron Rienas, of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, told ABC News that all four bridges connecting the two countries over the Niagara River have been closed.

The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission also reported that all four of its crossings — the others are Lewiston, Whirlpool, and Peace Bridge — were closed.

Photos and video taken by bystanders and posted on social media showed thick smoke, flames on the pavement, and a security booth that was singed by flames.

Videos showed that the fire was in a US Customs and Border Protection area, just east of the main vehicle checkpoint.

Speaking to WGRZ-TV, Mike Guenther said he saw a vehicle speeding toward the crossing from the US side of the border, when it swerved to avoid another car, crashed into a fence and exploded.

“All of a sudden, he went up in the air and then it was a ball of fire like 30 or 40 feet high,” Guenther told the station. “I never saw anything like it.”

The FBI’s field office in Buffalo said in a statement that it was investigating the blast, and investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also responding to the scene.

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