August 17, 2015
By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours
Canadian Derek Van Pelt described a scene of “absolute craziness” after a bomb rocked a shrine near a key intersection in central Bangkok on Monday.
“It was absolute craziness. There was broken glass everywhere, there were body parts everywhere,” Van Pelt told the Star in a phone interview from the Thai capital around noon Toronto time Monday.
At least two bombs were found at the scene, said Maj. Gen. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for Thailand’s ruling junta. He said at least one had detonated.
Thai PBS television said at least 15 people were killed.
Weerachon said dozens were injured. The dead included Chinese nationals and at least one Filipino, National Police Chief Somyot Poompummuang said
Van Pelt, who has lived in Thailand for 17 years, said he arrived at the scene about 30 minutes after the bomb went off, as he was making his way to the area to have dinner at a restaurant there.
He said he saw three motorcycles in the intersection when he arrived around 7:20 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. local time, and “one of them appeared to still be smoldering.”
The intersection was also filled with police officers, rescue personnel, reporters and a bomb squad, he said.
“Powerful blasts in Bangkok tonight,” Philip Calvert, the Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, tweeted. “Stay away from downtown and crowded areas, and exercise extra caution!”
The explosion took place at the Rajprasong intersection, which has been the centre of many political demonstrations in recent years. It occurred in front of the Erawan Shrine, a tourist landmark popular with Thais, in the Chidlom district of the Thai capital.
The Central World mall and a cross-section of two overhead Skytrain lines are in the neighbourhood of the blast.
“This is the intersection,” Van Pelt, who works with the Smiling Albino tour company in Thailand, told the Star.
“This would be like the Times Square of Bangkok in a way: it’s probably the main focal point for New Year’s celebrations, it’s the main focal point for protests.”
The first bomb was found inside the shrine compound, while the second was found opposite the complex, Weerachon said.
The Bangkok Post reported that Asian tourists made up most of the injured. The shrine is especially popular with Chinese tourists.
Two local hospitals were calling for Chinese translators to come help, and they were appealing for blood donations, the paper said.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “I strongly condemn the blast in Bangkok. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. I pray for a speedy recovery of the injured,” Modi posted on Twitter.
Thailand’s capital has been relatively peaceful since a military coup ousted a civilian government in May last year after several months of sometimes violent political protests against the previous government.
But there has been some tension in recent months as the junta has made clear it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.
Thai PBS reported that the intersection would be closed to traffic on Tuesday to enable the authorities to investigate the scene.
Car bombs are almost unknown in Bangkok, but have been used in southern Thailand, where a Muslim separatist insurgency has been flaring for several years.
Van Pelt said that outside the immediate area of the blast, it seemed to be “business as usual” in the capital on Monday evening.
“Bangkok is really a very safe place, generally speaking, and this is a highly unusual event. For the rest of Bangkok it’s business as usual.”