McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Violence erupted in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo overnight Sunday near the U.S. Consulate’s office and forced two international bridges to close, after Mexican army officials arrested a high-ranking drug cartel leader, Border Report has learned.

A State Department spokesperson told Border Report Monday afternoon the department “is aware of reports of gunfire and an exploded grenade at the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo and gunfire in locations throughout Nuevo Laredo.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, whose hometown is Laredo, Texas, across the border from Nuevo Laredo, told Border Report the violence was triggered because “one group is not happy because they got their leader and the other two groups are saying ‘Is there a vacuum here because we might need to come in?'”

Consulate employees were told to take cover and “shelter in place” as fighting raged near the consulate office in the border city across from Laredo, Texas, the State Department spokesperson said.

“The U.S. Consulate is taking appropriate measures to protect the safety and security of Consulate employees, and will continue to provide information to U.S. citizens in the area. The Consulate has issued several Security Alerts to inform U.S. citizens that U.S. government employees have been instructed to avoid the area and shelter in place until further notice,” the spokesperson told Border Report.

Uncontrolled fighting broke out overnight Sunday into Monday, March 14, 2022, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, seen in this file photo taken from Laredo, Texas, after reports that the Mexican military arrested a top leader of a cartel. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Warnings, as well as graphic images showing destroyed 18-wheeler trucks and other destruction from the fighting, also were posted on social media

“Due to reports of gunfire overnight near the U.S. Consulate and in locations throughout Nuevo Laredo, U.S. gov. employees have been advised to continue to shelter in place.  U.S. citizens should avoid the areas or continue to shelter in place,” Consulate officials posted on Twitter.

In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection overnight temporarily shut down for five hours southbound lanes on two international bridges leading from Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, due to the violence.

“For public safety reasons, southbound traffic into Nuevo Laredo at Juarez-Lincoln Bridge and Gateway to the Americas Bridge had been temporarily suspended due to an ongoing security situation on the Mexico side. Southbound traffic fully resumed at both bridges at approximately 7:30 a.m. this morning,” a CBP official told Border Report.

A file photo of the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge from Laredo, Texas, to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Traffic heading south on the was shut down for five hours early Monday, March 14, 2022, after reports of firefights and grenades blasting as drug cartels fought in the Mexican border town. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)
This file image shows the Gateway to the Americas Bridge leading from Laredo, Texas, to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Traffic heading southbound was temporarily shut down early Monday, March 14, 2022, due to drug cartel violence in the Mexican border town. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

The Mexican army confirmed an arrest of a drug cartel official, but did not name the person.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX, is seen on Oct. 18, 2021, in front of the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in Laredo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Cuellar told Border Report that the arrest of the cartel leader by SEDENA (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional) or the Mexican army, triggered the fighting among at least three drug cartels.

“SEDENA got a top person for one cartel,” Cuellar said via zoom from Washington, D.C. “And then you have other groups that want to come in and fill that vacuum.”

Cuellar said the two bridges were temporarily shut down out of caution and to protect CBP officers.

“They did some destruction over there,” Cuellar said. “I can understand why the possibility of some of those bridges being on alert … there’s always a danger of one of those stray shots.”

“I’ve been talking to our law enforcement and they are monitoring very carefully,” Cuellar said.

Gunfights across the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo have been relatively regular occurrences and concern for border residents living in Laredo, Texas, who often report on social media of hearing gunfire fights and popping sounds from south of the border.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com