Thanksgiving travel disrupted after fatal bridge explosion at Niagara Falls border crossing

Thanksgiving travel disrupted after fatal bridge explosion at Niagara Falls border crossing

The airport in Buffalo, New York, shut its doors to international flights and Amtrak halted service between New York and Canada on Wednesday, hours after a vehicle exploded at a customs checkpoint at the Canadian border nearby — throwing portions of the U.S. travel system into chaos on the eve of Thanksgiving.

The deputy airport director for the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, Russell Stark, confirmed that the airport was closed to arriving and departing international flights, and said it was done at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A Customs spokesperson said the agency was “working closely” with the FBI and other federal, state and local authorities, but did not comment on the airport closure.

The airport later reopened to all air traffic, the airport said on X, stating “additional security measures are in place until further notice.”

An Amtrak spokesperson confirmed that the railroad’s one train that operates between Toronto and New York had been halted, though the spokesperson could not provide further details.

The closures come after a vehicle exploded on Wednesday afternoon at the Rainbow Bridge connecting the U.S. and Canada, prompting officials to tighten border security along the U.S. northern border.

Photos and video taken by bystanders and posted on social media showed thick smoke coming from the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the U.S. and Canada at Niagara Falls. They also showed flames on the pavement and a security booth that had been singed by flames. Videos showed that the fire was in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection area just east of the main vehicle checkpoint.

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. Karine Martel, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Security Agency, said in a statement that the FBI was taking the lead on the investigation.

The explosion at the Rainbow Bridge happened as many Americans are hitting the roads for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and will cause major disruptions for cross-border travelers. It also came as federal law enforcement officials warned of increased threats ahead of the holiday weekend.

The cause of the vehicle explosion is unclear. Canadian and American federal, state and local law enforcement have begun investigating. At a news conference on Wednesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said there was “no indication” that the explosion was tied to terrorism while emphasizing that the situation was fluid.

“Based on what we know at this moment — and again, anything can change — there is no sign of terrorist activity with respect to this crash,” Hochul said.

That assessment was also shared by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who posted on X that “there is no indication of a threat related to this incident” and that DHS “will continue to work closely with state and local officials” and “continue to update the public as information becomes available.”

The Associated Press reported that two people had been declared dead at the scene. New York state officials confirmed that nearby vehicles suffered some damage. A law enforcement official confirmed that an officer with the Office of Field Operations was sent to the hospital with minor injuries.

Top leadership in both countries have also been looped in. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said on Wednesday that “the White House is closely monitoring the situation at the U.S.-Canada border crossing.” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg posted on X on Wednesday that he had been “briefed by our staff in NY state and HQ on the explosion & related bridge closures on the US-Canada border.”

The White House also said on Wednesday that President Joe Biden, who is spending Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, was briefed on the explosion and that “he and his team are closely following developments.”

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the explosion in Parliament on Wednesday, saying that “this is obviously a very serious situation in Niagara Falls” and acknowledging that “there are a lot of questions and we are following up to try to get as many answers, as rapidly as possible.”

The prime minister’s office says it was in contact with U.S. officials, and that Canadian police and border officials were “fully engaged and providing all necessary support.”

Canada’s public safety minister, Dominic LeBlanc, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon that “the government of Canada is taking this situation extremely seriously” but did not offer a possible reason for the explosion.

“Any time a piece of infrastructure as important to Canada and the United States, like a border crossing, sees this kind of violent circumstance, it’s a source of concern for the government of Canada and for the United States,” LeBlanc said, adding that Canadian law enforcement was working closely with its American counterparts.

LeBlanc posted on X later on Wednesday afternoon that he had spoken with Mayorkas, his American counterpart.

Constable Phil Gavin, a media relations officer at the Niagara Regional Police Service, said on Wednesday that “there’s no known threat on the Canadian side” and that “the 405 highway that leads to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is currently closed.”

Traffic on the Canadian side, according to Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, has increased, prompting some other closures.

“We’re available and ready to respond as needed. But at this point, everything seems to be focused on the U.S. side,” Schmidt said. “We have the border closings closed and we’re dealing with just the traffic issues that come along with that.”

Officials tightened security at the U.S.-Canada border. In earlier statements Wednesday, Hochul said that the New York State Police and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were “monitoring all ports of entry to New York” and that the state’s department of transportation was also working on closing parts of Interstate 190. Other bridges between Western New York and Ontario were also quickly closed as a precaution but have since reopened.

Eric Bazail-Eimil reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Kyle Duggan reported from Ottawa, Ontario; and Oriana Pawlyk reported from Washington. The Associated Press and Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.

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