Kiwis urged to check in after Bangkok blast

  • 18/08/2015
Nineteen people have been confirmed dead so far (Reuters)
Nineteen people have been confirmed dead so far (Reuters)

New Zealanders travelling in Thailand are being asked to check in with authorities following an explosion in Bangkok that killed at least 20 people.

The blast on Monday evening (local time) ripped through worshippers and tourists at a Hindu shrine, injuring more than 123, Thai authorities said.

The Thai national police chief said the bomb was timed to target tourists.

"The perpetrators are cruel and heartless, because they intended to take lives," said Somyot Poompanmoun.

"Everyone knows that at 7pm at the shrine, there are a lot of people gathered around there, both Thais and foreign tourists, so if they plant a bomb there they know, or can assume, they will cause casualties."

Auckland woman Tere Parsons told The New Zealand Herald she was relieved to hear her 16-year-old son, Haamiora Parsons, was safe after waiting to hear from him.

Haamiora has been in Thailand for two weeks for the international amateur muay Thai kickboxing championships.

A post on the coach of the Kiwi contingent's Facebook page said all was well, though the explosion was close to their hotel.

She said her son, an Avondale College student, had been well taken care of in Thailand by his coach and a group of parents.

"It's a good crew he's gone over there with."

Coach Aaron Boyes said the whole team was at Bangkok's national stadium – a 20-minute walk from the blast – when the bomb went off.

Kiwi Marko Cunningham, a paramedic, was among the first on the scene.

"The problem was they were all in critical condition... They were literally, the word I have been using is shredded – literally like seeing something going through a shredder – the legs, the arms were hanging off the bone, broken. A lot of people were naked; the bomb had blasted their clothes off. It was a mess. It was nasty. It was meant to hurt and kill many people."

He saw at least 14 dead in the temple, many lying on top of the injured. He believed most were local people but it was hard to tell, their faces blackened and covered in bloody and oil.

He doesn't know who was responsible.

"Thailand has too many problems to speculate – it could be a number of people."

But whomever it was, he said, knew what they were doing.

"This bomb was really made for maximum casualties and injuries. It was really nasty. I don't know the word for it – really nasty bomb.

"They wanted to kill as many people as they could. There was a crater in the concrete in the temple, where the bomb was. It was a very powerful bomb."

Veteran Australian rocker, Jimmy Barnes, is considering himself lucky after escaping the blast.

The Cold Chisel frontman and his family were walking towards the shrine, but decided to use an overhead walkway, as the pram they were pushing was too wide for the footpath.

He said they felt the bomb go off and watched as windows were bent by the blast.

New Zealander Gareth Jones was on a motorbike not far from the site of the explosion, and says it was frightening.

"In the distance I heard quite a big explosion, and in Thailand the power lines are pretty average here, so the power lines 'pop'. We expected it to be a power lines issue, but this sounded very, very different.

"The guy who was driving the motorbike actually stopped the bike to like, get off… He told me to get off. Everybody else stopped at the same time, so normally when everybody stops, it's a little bit scary."

Mr Jones' first instinct was to find out what was happening.

"I probably shouldn't have, but we tried to head down there to see what was going on," he said.

"There were actually quite large crowds and the police had cordoned off the area with makeshift barriers and stuff, but within probably 30 minutes the military had come through and shut off most of the [area]."

Journalist Stephen Boitano arrived on the scene not long after the bomb went off. There he found a burned motorcycle and body parts "scattered everywhere".

"The police and Army were all over the place, trying to take control. [It was] a little chaotic for a while, trying to cordon off the area."

The bomb squad arrived soon afterward, but didn't find any other explosives.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has updated its travel advisory for the country and advises caution in most parts of Thailand, including Bangkok, "due to the threat of terrorism and potential for violent civil unrest". It recommends travellers register online with SafeTravel – the official advisory.

"The New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok continues to seek information on the nationalities of victims and casualties from the explosion at the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok," MFAT said in a statement.

"At this stage there is no information that suggests New Zealanders have been killed or injured in the explosion. If you have concerns about a New Zealand family member in Bangkok, please try and make direct contact in the first instance."

"Particular care should be taken in public and commercial areas, including landmark places known to be frequented by expatriates or foreign tourists, public transport facilities, hotels, bars, tourist resorts, shopping areas and places of worship," SafeTravel said.

Authorities have said the blast targeted foreigners, with Chinese, Hong Kong and Filipino citizens among the dead, while Singapore and Taiwan reported that some of their citizens were injured.

There are currently 508 New Zealanders registered as being in Thailand with SafeTravel.

3 News / NZN