There’s no indication that a vehicle crash and explosion Wednesday that killed two people on the American side of the Rainbow Bridge — which connects Ontario and New York — is linked to terrorism, says New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“Based on what we know at this moment, there is no sign of terrorist activity in this crash,” Hochul said at a news conference.
She said an individual from Western New York was “involved” in a “crash,” but she did not clarify if the person was the driver.
Late Wednesday evening, the FBI in Buffalo confirmed in a statement posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that it had concluded its investigation at the scene of the incident. The post said that a search “revealed no explosive materials” and that investigators found no connections to terrorism.
It said the investigation is now in the hands of the Niagara Falls Police Department in New York state.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NEW?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NEW</a> Statement from <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FBI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FBI</a> Buffalo regarding the investigation at Rainbow Bridge: <a href=”https://t.co/4lwvq8PsAe”>pic.twitter.com/4lwvq8PsAe</a>
Hochul said events began at 11:27 a.m. ET. The explosion led to the closure of four area bridge border crossings ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.
Information about the second person who died was not available.
Shortly after 5 p.m., Ontario Provincial Police said the Peace, Queenston-Lewiston and Whirlpool Rapids bridges had reopened. The Rainbow Bridge remained closed.
“Naturally, at a time of heightened alert, everybody springs into action,” Hochul said. “We’re not aware of any threats to this area, but I state the caveat that the investigation is ongoing.”
Canadian government sources told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon that answers about what happened may take some time as the vehicle involved was badly burned. Ottawa is “highly confident” the car originated in the United States, they said.
Vehicle basically ‘incinerated’
Hochul said a video shows how the vehicle basically “incinerated” and nothing was left but the engine.
“It’s going to take a lot of time for our federal law enforcement partners … to be able to piece together the real story.”
Earlier Wednesday, the FBI Buffalo Field Office posted on X that it was investigating a vehicle explosion.
“The FBI is coordinating with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in this investigation. As this situation is very fluid, that’s all we can say at this time.”
The Buffalo Niagara International airport said on X that it was open and “fully operational.”
PMO in contact with U.S. officials
The Rainbow Bridge connects the tourism sectors of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Niagara Falls, N.Y. It has 16 car inspection lanes into the U.S. and 15 into Canada. The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission website, which oversees the bridges, says they see about seven million passages annually.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press secretary, Jenna Ghassabeh, said in an email shortly after the explosion that Trudeau was briefed “by the national security and intelligence adviser about the situation in Niagara Falls.”
The email said the Prime Minister’s Office is “in contact with the U.S. officials. The minister of public safety, RCMP and CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] are fully engaged and providing all necessary support.”
Trudeau, speaking in the House of Commons, called it “a very serious situation” and said his office would “remain engaged” on the incident the rest of the day.
Government sources told CBC on Wednesday afternoon there was no firm conclusion on whether the explosion was intentional. Because it was at a site of critical infrastructure, the operating assumption from government is there is a security threat until proven otherwise, they added.
A spokesperson from Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center confirmed a border patrol agent was treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries from the explosion.
Shortly after the explosion, the CBSA told CBC Hamilton via email that it was “liaising with our U.S. counterparts on this matter.”
The U.S. transportation agency, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said it was “increasing security system-wide.”
Security was also stepped up at other Canadian border crossings.
The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel said it was operating at a “heightened level of security” in the wake of the explosion at the Rainbow Bridge. In a statement, the tunnel’s chief executive officer said the crossing remained open but some delays were expected. Officials are monitoring the situation at other Windsor-Detroit border crossings as well.
In northwestern Ontario, border crossings at the Fort Frances Bridge between Fort Frances, Ont., and International Falls, Minn., the Pigeon River crossing near Thunder Bay remain open. The CBSA also lists the bridge crossing between Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., as open.
The Niagara Regional Police Service wrote on X there was “no known threat on the Canadian side” of the border. The service added the public should expect to see more police out, as well as road closures near the bridges and “significant traffic congestion on Niagara roadways, including highways.”
Also on X, Toronto police wrote that while they are unaware of any threats to the city, they would be increasing officer patrols “out of an abundance of caution.”
‘One city divided by a border’
Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., told CBC Hamilton he was getting out of a dentist appointment around lunchtime when he learned about the explosion.
“As soon as I saw [the] border closed, the hair on my back stands up,” Diodati told CBC.
“We often say Niagara Falls is one city divided by a border.”
If you can imagine, the bridge was packed with cars that had to turn around and be sent back to Canada. It was nerve-racking.”– Forrest Willett, Ontario resident
As a border town, he said, the crossings are important to Niagara Falls. They facilitate trade and tourism, and many locals have loved ones on the American side.
“It’s cause for alarm,” he said, especially given people tend to cross this time of year for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and Black Friday shopping.
In a situation such as this, the mayor said officials prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Ontario real estate agent Forrest Willett was waiting to cross into the U.S. over the Peace Bridge for work on Wednesday when border officers began approaching cars.
He said an officer told him they were evacuating the bridge as there had been an explosion at the nearby Rainbow Bridge.
Willett said he felt like the “elevator floor” had dropped out from under him and he was counting down the seconds until he could get off the bridge.
“If you can imagine, the bridge was packed with cars that had to turn around and be sent back to Canada,” Willett said. “It was nerve-racking.”
He said the officers directed traffic and all personal vehicles drove off the bridge within 20 minutes. They’re now crammed on streets and parking lots and people wait for the bridge to reopen, he said mid-afternoon.
Jose Ventura Jr. was visiting Niagara Falls, N.Y., with his family on Wednesday. They had just stopped at a nearby park and were heading toward the Rainbow Bridge when they heard a loud bang and saw thick smoke.
He told CBC Hamilton his 10-year-old daughter was “really scared and screaming out.”
Moments later, he said, police began evacuating the area.
“We just had to get out of there,” Ventura said. “We were worried something else might occur and for sure didn’t feel safe.”