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New York Governor says there’s no sign of terrorist activity. Trudeau says officials were ‘taking this extraordinarily seriously, and White House says Biden was ‘closely following developments’

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Law enforcement personnel block off the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y.Derek Gee/The Associated Press

What we know so far

  • Four of the busiest border crossing points between Canada and the United States were closed after a vehicle exploded at a U.S. checkpoint in Niagara Falls
  • Three of the four have reopened; Rainbow Bridge remains closed
  • New York Governor Kathy Hochul says there’s no sign of terrorist activity
  • The FBI confirmed it is investigating an explosion, which took place on the U.S. side of the Rainbow Bridge crossing
  • Two people were found dead in the vehicle, according to The Associated Press, The New York Times and CNN

5:50 p.m.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul says no sign of terrorism

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said there is so far no evidence that the crash was a terrorist attack. She said the driver of the car was from western New York state. The driver and a passenger died while one U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer suffered minor injuries.

“There is no sign of terrorist activist with respect to this crash. We have identified this is a local individual, a western New Yorker,” Ms. Hochul told a late afternoon news conference.

The governor said the car hit a median, flew over an eight-foot (2.5-metre) fence and crashed into a booth at the border crossing.

She did not identify the driver, the passenger or the border guard. The border guard, who was working in the booth that the car crashed into was treated in hospital and released, she said.

Ms. Hochul said flights were coming and going from Buffalo’s airport by late Wednesday afternoon. The Rainbow Bridge remained closed and rail service was suspended between Toronto and New York.

The governor confirmed that “there is suspicion that the vehicle may have originated” in the vicinity of the Seneca Casino a few blocks from the border. She said it was too soon to say what caused the crash but appealed for calm.

“We need to dial down the temperature right now,” she said. “There is no sign of terrorist involvement the horrific explosion that occurred here.”

- Adrian Morrow

5:45 p.m.

Security footage shows car airborne before explosion at checkpoint

Security camera footage released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a car travelling at high speed becoming airborne before an explosion occurred at a checkpoint on the Rainbow Bridge.

The Globe and Mail

5:40 p.m.

Explosion rattles Niagara Falls community, mayor says

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said the explosion has rattled the community, which relies heavily on cross-border travel, especially on the eve of U.S. Thanksgiving.

“This is the biggest retail time of the year, the U.S. long weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, this is the biggest time,” he said.

“A lot of people on both sides of the border are getting together, Canadians are flying out of Buffalo airport. ... This is a big time, and especially for border city communities.”

The number of U.S. visitors to Niagara Falls has only recently returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, Mayor Diodati said.

“It took a lot of work, a lot of marketing, a lot of effort,” he said. “And a lot of people are holding their breath waiting for the outcome of the FBI investigation into exactly what happened.”

- Dave McGinn

5:25 p.m.

U.S., Canada ‘to keep in close contact’ regarding incident, Public Safety Minister says

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc has posted on X, the former Twitter, that he has spoken with his American counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, regarding the incident at the Rainbow Bridge. “We agreed to keep in close contact. The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency are working with their American counterparts,” said the posting.

- Ian Bailey

5:15 p.m.

Three border crossing reopen

Three of the four bridges previously closed between U.S. and Canada have reopened, Canadian officials say. The Rainbow Bridge remains closed. The report was confirmed by the Ontario Provincial Police on X, formerly Twitter.

- Reuters

5:05 p.m.

Bridge closings strand thousands of travellers

The bridge closings stranded thousands of travellers on both sides of the border. Toronto’s Paola Tamang was returning to Ontario after a trip when the car exploded, not far from where she was getting travel documents processed in a second-floor U.S. customs office. She and others ran to the window and saw a sedan engulfed in flames, with a massive cloud of black smoke filling the sky.

“I just heard a loud noise, an explosion, and I was in the building and it completely shook. It felt like an earthquake,” Ms. Tamang said. “We just saw a big, huge fire, and the trunk was blown off and debris on the ground ... The fuel was on fire, and it was spreading toward the parked vehicles.”

Security video released by American officials showed the vehicle had crashed into a secondary inspection point on the U.S. side, after hitting the curb and becoming airborne from an adjacent road at a high rate of speed.

Within a minute, Ms. Tamang said, a U.S. customs official told everyone in the office they needed to evacuate the building, and they were escorted out a rear door. She was among about a dozen people who had to leave their vehicles on the U.S. side, and walk across the Rainbow Bridge. She said she planned to find a hotel in Niagara Falls overnight and wait until she could get her car back.

After the explosion, officials on the Canadian side of the border used snowplows to block access to the Rainbow Bridge, just a block away from the blinking neon lights of Niagara’s tourist strip. Travellers trying to return to the U.S. on the eve of American Thanksgiving – one of the busiest travel days of the year – were left stuck in Canada side, wandering the streets and crowding into hotel lobbies.

A Ghanian-born immigration consultant named Chorkor Millionaire said he was taking a family of four across the border into the U.S., and was waiting inside the American customs building at the Rainbow Bridge, when he heard a very loud bang. He said he had to abandon his car and carry a child back across the bridge to Canada.

“It was very scary … We were naturally worried. When it happened, it was right by the entrance, so how were we going to get out of there?” he said. “Now we’re just here waiting. We don’t know what to do.”

- Greg Mercer

4:53 p.m.

New York City police boost security at various spots due to Thanksgiving parade Thursday

New York City police were monitoring the news from Buffalo but already had boosted security at various spots because of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday.

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

Sanchit Chatha, his wife Reyshu and their 13-year-old daughter, Trisha, had stopped in Niagara Falls for lunch en route home to Toronto from Buffalo when they started getting news notifications about the explosion. Worried friends called, knowing the family was in the area.

Trisha was concerned at seeing the bridges to Canada shut down, her mother said.

“She has a math test tomorrow,” the mother explained as the family waited to find out when the crossings would open.

About 6,000 vehicles cross the Rainbow Bridge each day, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. About 5 per cent is truck traffic, according to U.S. federal data.

The bridge, constructed in 1941, is just over 1,440 feet (439 meters) long and has a main span constructed of steel, according to the data.

- The Associated Press

4:51 p.m.

Eyewitness describes car hitting concrete barrier, going ‘airborne’

Rickie Wilson told Fox News that he was standing outside One Niagara, a shopping complex next to the bridge, when he saw a car hit a concrete barrier and fly through the air.

“It went airborne. The vehicle began to turn sideways and went under something overhead,” he said.

Mr. Wilson described a “metal-on-metal” sound and said black smoke began pouring out of the car, followed by flames.

The Niagara Falls Gazette quoted Ivan Vitalli saying he was at a 7-Eleven on Niagara Street, across from a casino a few blocks from the border, when he saw the car that later crashed pull out of the parking lot.

- Adrian Morrow

Open this photo in gallery:

Fire damage is visible to the customs plaza structure at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y.Derek Gee/The Associated Press

4:02 p.m.

Buffalo airport closed to all departing and arriving international flights

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

Official details of the incident were murky.

The three bridges carrying road vehicles only across the Niagara River between Ontario and New York state 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.

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

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

- Reuters

3:53 p.m.

Heightened measures in place at Buffalo airport ‘until further notice’

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the U.S. organization that oversees the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, said it has increased security measures in response to the explosion.

“As soon as we heard something was happening, we went into heightened security mode,” said NFTA communications manager Kelly Khatib.

“We began checking cars coming into the Buffalo airport using our explosive detection dogs. Both inside and outside people will see increased police patrols, including police patrols on the inside with those explosive detection dogs. And you will have to undergo additional screening today when you’re coming into the airport.”

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S., making it one of the busiest times of the year at the airport, Ms. Khatib said. Travelers are usually advised to arrive two hours before their flights, but the NFTA is now asking travelers to arrive at least three or four hours ahead of time.

The heightened security measures at the airport will be in place “until further notice,” Ms. Khatib said.

- Dave McGinn

3:16 p.m.

Number of nearby public Buffalo buildings close due to security concerns

A voice mail recording at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo said police have recommended they close in light of the incident.

“Our partners in law enforcement have recommended that we close our buildings through the Thanksgiving holiday,” the voice recording stated. “There are no known credible threats against the Jewish community at this time.”

Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz posted on X, formerly Twitter, that a number of public buildings in Buffalo have closed due to nearby security concerns, including the Rath Building, which houses offices, the history Old County Hall and the Family Court building.

Scott Davis, an employee at the Wyndham Garden at Niagara Falls, a few blocks from the Rainbow Bridge, said the nearby streets have been closed, but that guests are not being evacuated or prevented from leaving.

An employee at a nearby Sunoco gas station who did not wish to be identified said he heard a loud explosion and that police have closed off the area.

- Carly Weeks

Open this photo in gallery:

Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y.Derek Gee/The Associated Press

3:10 p.m.

Toronto police increasing patrols throughout city

Toronto police announced in the wake of the border incident that they would be increasing uniformed patrols throughout the city.

“This is out of an abundance of caution and there are no known threats” to Toronto, police said on the social media site X, formerly Twitter.

- Oliver Moore

3:09 p.m.

Biden briefed on situation, ‘closely following developments’

The White House said that U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation and was “closely following developments.”

Mr. Biden is on holiday in Nantucket, Massachusetts for American Thanksgiving on Thursday.

- Adrian Morrow

3:00 p.m.

Two dead in vehicle explosion, according to media reports

Two people are dead in the explosion, according to reporting from The New York Times and CNN.

CNN cited a law enforcement source who said two people who were in the vehicle are dead.

The Times said two were dead and a border patrol officer was injured, citing two law enforcement officials “with knowledge of the matter.”

The Associated Press also reported that two people were found dead in the vehicle. A law enforcement official who spoke to AP was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation publicly and shared the information on condition of anonymity.

- Globe staff, wires

2:53 p.m.

Eyewitnesses from the scene speak to media outlets

An eyewitness told a U.S. television news crew that the car came from the U.S. side of the border and crashed into the crossing at high speed before exploding.

Mike Guenther, who spoke to a local NBC affiliate, said he was walking down Main Street in Niagara Falls, New York with his wife when he saw the car race by at over 160 kilometres per hour. The car was going so fast it was fishtailing, he said, and swerved to avoid another vehicle in front of it. Then, it hit a fence, caught fire and flew through the air.

“Then, all of a sudden, he went up in the air and then it was like a ball of fire – like, 30 to 40 feet high. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mr. Guenther, whom the network identified as being from Ontario.

He said the car was going too fast for him to make out its licence plates or see if there was anyone inside. He said the car appeared to be either a Bentley or a Chrysler 300. He also heard a loud bang, he said.

“If anybody was in the way, I don’t think they would have survived,” Mr. Guenther said. “The car parts were everywhere in little pieces.”

- Adrian Morrow

2:45 p.m.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc called the incident a “violent circumstance” and a source of concern for both countries, but warned against speculation in the absence of more details.

Niagara regional police say they are monitoring developments and that there is no known threat on the Canadian side of the border.

CNN reported that the vehicle exploded in the secondary screening area after entering the customs complex at a high rate of speed. It’s not clear if the vehicle had been referred for inspection.

Media reports suggest the vehicle was trying to enter the U.S. from Canada.

All four crossings between Canada and New York state are closed.

- The Canadian Press, The Associated Press

2:39 p.m.

Trudeau tells Parliament additional measures are being considered for border crossings across Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament that a vehicle had blown up on the Rainbow Bridge crossing between Niagara Falls and New York state and that additional measures are being considered for border crossings across Canada.

“It’s a very serious situation, but we will remain engaged for the entire day,” Mr. Trudeau said during Question Period. “There are a lot questions, and we are following up to try and get as many answers as rapidly possible.”

He said four border crossings are now closed: the Rainbow Bridge, the Whirlpool Bridge, the Queenston Bridge and the Peace Bridge.

“We are taking this extraordinarily seriously,” he said.

The Prime Minister then excused himself from Question Period to go for further briefings on the matter.

- Ian Bailey

Video: Vehicle explosion at Rainbow Bridge linking New York and Canada

The FBI is investigating an explosion at a U.S. checkpoint on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls that has closed four major Canada-U.S. border crossings.

The Globe and Mail

2:28 p.m.

Buffalo Airport says cars will undergo security checks

In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Buffalo Airport said cars entering the airport will “undergo security checks and travelers can expect additional screenings,” adding that the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Airports are “fully operational.”

“In response to the incident that is unfolding at the Rainbow Bridge, the NFTA is increasing security system-wide,” the statement on Twitter says.

The airport advises travelers to “give themselves time for these extra precautions in addition to holiday travel.”

- Globe staff

2 p.m.

Border crossing closed after vehicle explosion on Rainbow Bridge connecting New York and Canada

Open this photo in gallery:

Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y.Derek Gee/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Four of the busiest border crossing points between Canada and the United States are closed after a vehicle exploded at a U.S. checkpoint in Niagara Falls.

The FBI confirmed it is investigating an explosion, which took place on the U.S. side of the Rainbow Bridge crossing in upstate New York.

Videos posted to social media show smoke and flames emanating from the checkpoint complex at the crossing, which spans the Niagara River.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that she had been fully briefed and was monitoring the situation closely.

Media reports suggest the vehicle was trying to enter the U.S. from Canada. All four crossings between Canada and New York state are closed.

CNN is reporting that customs officials had redirected the vehicle for a secondary screening just prior to the explosion.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement that he has been briefed by his national security and intelligence adviser about “the situation in Niagara Falls.”

It said the public safety minister, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency are “fully engaged and providing all necessary support,” and “we are in contact with the U.S. officials.”

“Our provincial law enforcement is actively engaged in assessing the situation,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement.

“They are working with local law enforcement and are providing support as required.”

- The Canadian Press, with reports from The Associated Press

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