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Rainbow Bridge reopens as probe of ‘horrific’ vehicle explosion continues

Click to play video: 'Rainbow Bridge explosion: Border crossing reopens as FBI concludes investigation'
Rainbow Bridge explosion: Border crossing reopens as FBI concludes investigation
WATCH: Niagara Falls’ Rainbow Bridge border crossing connecting the U.S. and Canada has reopened after the unprecedented explosion of a car killed two and injured a border patrol officer on Wednesday, stirring a security panic across the two nations. The FBI has concluded its investigation and any signs of the incident being related to terrorism have been dispelled. Shallima Maharaj reports – Nov 23, 2023

The Rainbow Bridge border crossing between Canada and the United States was reopened Thursday evening as the investigation into a “horrific” vehicle explosion the day before continues.

The Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Buffalo office confirmed operations at the crossing resumed just after 6:30 p.m. Eastern, more than 30 hours after the crash that killed two people.

The other three border checkpoints that cross the Niagara River between Ontario and New York state — Lewiston-Queensway Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge and Peace Bridge — were reopened Wednesday evening, allowing thousands of people to travel through the region for the busy American Thanksgiving holiday.

The holiday, which also includes the popular Black Friday shopping event, is one of the busiest travel days of the year for North America.

Click to play video: 'Rainbow Bridge explosion sparks increased safety measures'
Rainbow Bridge explosion sparks increased safety measures

Rainbow Bridge closed Wednesday after a vehicle exploded at the port of entry. Two people were killed and a third person was injured.

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Security on both sides of the border was immediately heightened after the incident, which happened before noon Eastern.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday night the incident was a “horrific accident” and not an act of terrorism.

Hochul said that the damage at Rainbow Bridge means it will take time to find out what happened, and that the vehicle appeared to crash into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection booth at a high rate of speed, exploding upon impact.

“The vehicle is basically incinerated. Nothing is left but the engine,” she said, adding the debris was spread out over a dozen or so checkpoint booths.

“At this time, there is no indication of a terrorist attack.”

The FBI office in Buffalo said Wednesday night no “terrorism nexus” was found, and said a search of the scene revealed no explosive materials. The investigation has been turned over to the U.S. Niagara Falls Police Department, it added.

The department said in a statement Thursday it would take some time to complete its investigation into what happened “due to the complexity of the incident.”

In Canada, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc confirmed in a social media post Thursday morning that “there is no evidence of terrorism at this time.”

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Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

Law enforcement personnel blocked off the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada has been closed after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint on the bridge.

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Hochul said security camera video from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows the car racing through an intersection on a wet road, hitting a low median and vaulting high into the air in a CBP area just east of the main vehicle checkpoint.

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The car flew for several metres, twisting and then crashing into a line of booths out of the camera’s view.

Hochul, who visited the scene of the crash, said she viewed the security video, which she called “absolutely surreal.”

“You actually had to look and say, ‘Was this (video) generated by AI? Because it was so surreal to see how high in the air this vehicle actually went, and then the crash and the explosion,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Rainbow Bridge explosion: ‘No indication’ of terrorism at Canada-US border, New York governor says'
Rainbow Bridge explosion: ‘No indication’ of terrorism at Canada-US border, New York governor says

Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, is hoping the crossing will be open by the weekend but says U.S. counterparts in Niagara Falls, N.Y., have not made it clear whether the bridge will reopen Thursday or Friday.

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“Certainly, it’s a sad situation with two people perishing, but it could have been much worse and could have been much more significant,” Diodati said Thursday. “So a real emotional rollercoaster yesterday.”

The incident shut down neighbouring bridges, Peace, Queenston-Lewiston and Whirlpool, for a short period of time on Wednesday as a precaution. All were open and operating as normal as of Thursday morning, according to officials on both sides of the border.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said the incident caused some traffic chaos with Highway 405 having to be shut down and traffic stuck between the QEW and Queenston-Lewiston Bridge having to be “bled out.”

“Then the closure down at the bottom of the QEW at Fort Erie shut down that traffic, all being forced off into Niagara Regional areas and roads,” he said.

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official confirmed to Global News on Thursday that the Rainbow Bridge crossing would remain closed as investigators scour the large debris field from the crash for evidence.

With a CBP field officer having to be taken to hospital with minor injuries as a precaution, Diodati believes the incident may facilitate a review of security measures on both sides of the border.

“I’m sure it’ll cause another further review and they’ll talk about how they can make things even safer,” Diodati said.

Click to play video: 'Rainbow Bridge explosion: FBI investigating after vehicle explodes at U.S.-Canada border crossing'
Rainbow Bridge explosion: FBI investigating after vehicle explodes at U.S.-Canada border crossing

Hochul said it wasn’t clear whether the driver — whom she identified as a western New York resident — was intentionally heading for the bridge, which crosses the Niagara River.

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The incident took place on one of the busiest travel days of the year for the U.S., one day before the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Security measures were heightened at all other checkpoints across the Canada-U.S. border, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and local railway networks.

Toronto police stepped up patrols “out of an abundance of caution,” while police in Peel Region deployed more officers to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

— with files from Global News’ Naomi Barghiel and Don Mitchell.

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