A vehicle speeding toward a U.S.-Canada bridge from the American side crashed and exploded at a checkpoint in Niagara Falls on Wednesday, leaving two people dead and prompting the closing of four border crossings in the area, authorities said.
There was no immediate information on the cause of the incident, but it raised concerns on both sides of the border. The White House said President Joe Biden was “closely following developments," and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said officials were “taking this extraordinarily seriously."
“This is obviously a very serious situation in Niagara Falls,” Trudeau said in Parliament before excusing himself from Question Period in the House of Commons to be briefed further.
The two deceased people were in the vehicle, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aaron Ferguson, a spokesperson for the city of Niagara Falls, New York, said the vehicle was traveling at high speed from that city and crashed into the border station.
The blast happened on the U.S. 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.
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.
Photos and video taken by bystanders and posted on social media showed thick smoke, flames on the sidewalk 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.
Speaking to WGRZ-TV, Mike Guenther said he saw a vehicle speeding toward the crossing from the U.S. 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."
Ivan Vitalii, a Ukrainian visiting Niagara Falls, told The Niagara Gazette that he and a friend were near the bridge when they "heard something smash."
"We saw fire and big, black smoke," he told the newspaper.
U.S. Attorney General Attorney General Merrick Garland and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul had been briefed on the situation, their offices said.
Hochul later said there was "no indication of a terrorist attack" in the crash. "Based on what we know at this moment," she said, "there is no sign of terrorist activity in this crash."
The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission reported that all four of its crossings — the others are Lewiston, Whirlpool and Peace Bridge — were closed.