UPDATED 11/23/23: Traffic is flowing once again across the international bridges linking western New York and Ontario, Canada, after what appeared to be a car explosion on one of the bridges prompted the closure of others.
The FBI's Buffalo, New York, office concluded late Wednesday the incident was not a terror attack.
"A search of the scene revealed no explosive materials, and no terrorism nexus was identified,” the agency said in a statement. “The matter has been turned over to the Niagara Falls Police Department as a traffic investigation.”
The Rainbow Bridge linking the cities of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario, was slammed shut shortly before noon on Wednesday when a fireball erupted inside the U.S. Customs and Immigration compound on the New York side of the bridge.
The Peace Bridge and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge were closed shortly afterwards while the explosion was investigated to determine if terrorism was involved.
Bridges linking Michigan and Ontario remained open, but under a heightened level of security.
The Rainbow Bridge, where all this started, is autos only; no commercial vehicles use that border crossing.
Investigators later determined the incident was the result of a car driven at a very high rate of speed along Niagara Street, a road leading to the Customs facility. Eyewitness Rickie Wilson, a Niagara Falls tour guide, speaking on local radio station WBEN, estimated the car was traveling in excess of 100 mph.
A video from Rainbow Bridge security cameras posted on X (the social media platform previously known as Twitter) showed a white car traveling at excessive speed, striking a median or a curb and becoming airborne. It flew for many yards and over a security fence before landing inside the compound and bursting into flames.
In a late afternoon press briefing, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the car was “basically incinerated,” with nothing left but the engine. Debris was scattered across more than a dozen inspection booths. One Customs and Border Protection officer received minor injuries and was treated in hospital and released.
Two occupants of the car, believed to be a husband and wife, died in the crash. The identities of those in the car weren’t released.
Hochul said it wasn’t clear whether the driver — a western New York resident — was intentionally heading for the bridge, which crosses the Niagara River.
Early media reports had the car coming from Canada, driving across the Rainbow Bridge before striking the compound. Following the crash, officials on the Canadian end of the Rainbow Bridge began moving heavy equipment into place to block access to the bridge.
Amtrak service was temporarily suspended between New York state and Canada, as those tracks run across the Whirlpool Bridge. The Buffalo airport went to a higher security status, with vehicles being searched while dropping and picking up passengers. Service there was never actually suspended.
Bridges Reopened at 5 p.m.
At a press conference a few hours after the drama began, Hochul and western New York’s U.S. attorney, Trini Ross, declared the situation was not terrorist-related.
“Based on what we know at this moment,” Hochul said at a news conference, “there is no sign of terrorist activity in this crash.”
Most area bridges reopened to traffic shortly before 5 p.m. local time. The Rainbow Bridge remains closed as the investigation continues.
Original 11/23/2023 report: Explosion Closes Border Crossings Between Western NY and Canada
Four bridges connecting Canada and the U.S. were closed Wednesday afternoon following an explosion on the Rainbow Bridge.
The Rainbow Bridge does not carry commercial truck traffic, but other border bridges in the area that do were closed in both directions as well, including the Peace Bridge, Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge, and Rainbow Bridge.
The Peace Bridge typically carries around 76,000 trucks a month, according to the bridge's website.
According to the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the bridges "are likely to be closed for a significant period of time." There was a vehicle explosion at the Rainbow Bridge Inspection Station at the American side inspection area.
“Don’t send your trucks/employees to these locations until word of when the bridges will reopen is provided,” said the association.
The Canada Border Services Agency is recommending both commercial and non-commercial vehicles use the Lansdowne port of entry, which is about 250 miles from the Peace Bridge.
According to NYSDOT on X, the social media platform formerly known as twitter, as of about 1:30 eastern time, remaining international crossings were put on heightened alert status but would remain open.
The FBI is working with local and state authorities to investigate. According to the New York Times, two people died and a Border Patrol officer was injured. Published reports indicate that the two deceased were in the car, which also reportedly was approaching the checkpoint at high speed. Videos posted on social media show smoke and flames.
The website for the Peace Bridge was experiencing connection problems, including for wait times, likely due to increased amount of web traffic. However, web cams on YouTube showed the bridge and inspection area eerily empty.