BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) — A bomb explosion that appeared to target a popular Hindu shrine in central Bangkok killed at least 27 people and injured dozens more, according to reporting from local media outlets The Nation television and Channel 7.
Foreigners are among the injured, Maj Gen. Weerachon Sukhontapatipak, a Thai government spokesman, told CNN, but he had no specifics.
Police were sealing off the scene near the popular Erawan Shrine because a bomb in the area remains active and needs to be defused, police at the scene said.
Bomb squad members in blast suits responded to the area, and an officer announced over a loudspeaker, “The situation is still not safe. Please all stay back. There might be another bomb in the area.”
Officials on the scene provided CNN with no immediate information on casualties, but there were at least five ambulances in the area.
Steve Herman, a correspondent and bureau chief for Voice of America, said he thought it was thunder when the explosion first ripped through central Bangkok.
He saw six bodies under sheets inside the shrine and one outside of it, he told CNN.
Another reporter, The New York Times’ Thomas Fuller, said body parts were scattered around the area. He estimated that several hundred military and police officials, some of them using dogs, were scouring the scene for more bombs.
Maj. Gen. Sriwara Ransibrahmanakul told CNN that security was being tightened throughout the city. Asked how many security forces had been deployed, he replied, “As much as we have.”
The national police chief, Gen. Somyot Pumpunmuang, told Reuters that the blast came from an “improvised device” on a motorcycle, according to the news wire’s Bangkok correspondent, Amy Sawitta Lefevre. Police have not officially stated whether they believe the bomb had a specific target.
The Bangkok Post reported that the bomb that detonated just after 7 p.m. was fastened to a utility pole in front of the shrine, and the bomb squad was working to deactivate a second device about 50 minutes after the first blast.
The explosion destroyed several motorcycles.
The blast didn’t cause rampant panic, as some bystanders were milling around peacefully and a family apparently unaware of the explosion was enjoying a meal at a nearby McDonald’s, freelance journalist Adam Ramsey told CNN.
Schools are out and many in the city were commuting home at the time of the blast, so the explosion at a busy intersection, in an area that draws tourists, carried the potential for significant casualties.
Along with many hotels, there also are numerous shopping centers in the area, Google Maps shows, including the Platinum Fashion Mall and Central World, reportedly one of the largest shopping malls in the world. The city’s Skytrain rumbles nearly overhead.
Though Buddhism is the predominant religion, there are many Hindu shrines in Bangkok, and the Erawan Shrine is the best known among them, according to an English-language website providing news and tourism information about the country.
Streams of people pay respects at the shrine from early morning until late at night. Thais and foreign visitors make ceremonial offerings ranging from floral garlands and fruits to teakwood elephants in the hope that their wishes will be fulfilled, according to another tourist site.
The shrine houses a golden statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. The shrine is so revered that Thanakorn Pakdeepol, a mentally ill man, was beaten to death in 2006 by two bystanders after they witnessed him vandalizing the statue.
Thousands of worshipers visit the site each day, praying for everything from to good health to sporting results. They light incense sticks and wai (bow slightly with palms pressed together) to each of the four faces of the statue. For extra luck, worshipers pay respect and money to the shrine’s Thai dancers.
Many whose prayers are answered return to pay express gratitude to this revered Thai shrine.