Garland sellers lucky to be alive - blast occurred on their day off

Rain or shine, garland vendors line the footpath outside Bangkok's famous Erawan shrine, hawking flowers carefully threaded up as an offering to the gods. The only exception is on Mondays, when the capital's streets are cleared for cleaning.

That was the day the bomb planted inside the shrine detonated, taking with it 20 lives and maiming over 100 people, in the deadliest attack in Bangkok in recent times.

Yesterday, Ms Phrakob Boonmak, 52, sat grimly by the sidewalk with fellow garland sellers as police swarmed the shrine, which remained cordoned off.

"If it had been any day other than Monday, we would all have died," she told The Straits Times. "On a normal day, there are 25 stalls here."

She was at home in eastern Bangkok when the bomb went off. The images that she saw on television immediately after that horrified her.

Ratchaprasong intersection, of which the shrine occupies a corner, is a key junction in Bangkok's commercial and business district.

Anti-government protesters on both sides of Thailand's political divide have occupied it, sometimes with violent consequences.

Ms Phrakob witnessed the bloody military crackdown on protesters there in 2010. But that was nothing compared to what happened on Monday.

"This was the scariest thing I've ever seen," she said. "I've seen all kinds of things, like the mobs and the crackdown. But at least you knew who was who and what side each person was fighting for.

"But with this, we don't know who is behind it and where they will strike."

Eyewitnesses describe seeing a massive blaze immediately after the blast, and finding body parts - including a severed body - scattered in the immediate vicinity.

Mr Kittisak Chaiwisek, 33, deputy manager at MaxValu convenience store at Erawan Bangkok mall next to the shrine, said: "There were so many bodies everywhere. I saw half a body, and then another behind the shrine."

Ms Boontida Nakcharoen, 34, was organising an event at Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel next door when the blast shook the surrounding buildings.

She stepped out for a look, only to see one of the shrine's dancers screaming as she ran away.

"Some of those injured were bleeding heavily when they were carried into the hotel for first aid," she said.

Ms Phrakob says she expects to begin hawking garlands again as soon as the authorities reopen the shrine to the public.

"It's my livelihood," she said. "Even though I am scared, I will still come."

This article was first published on August 19, 2015.
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