200 hurt in Philippines celebrations
More than 200 people have been injured by illegal firecrackers and celebratory gunfire in the Philippines despite a government scare campaign against reckless holiday revelries, officials said today.
Stray bullets wounded eight people and 197 were injured by powerful firecrackers from December 21-30, Health Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag said, adding that more than half of the victims were children.
Officials fear the number of injuries may rise as superstitious Filipinos bid goodbye to a year of natural disasters and economic uncertainties.
Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest. One particularly huge triangular firecracker is labelled "Goodbye Philippines".
Although the number of injuries has tapered off in recent years, largely due to hard economic times and the government's scare campaign, the figures remain alarming.
"Doctors are waiting with surgical saws, bone cutters and drills in case your fingers need to be amputated," Mr Tayag told ABS-CBN network to dissuade illegal fireworks. "I hope this won't happen."
Dozens of hospitals nationwide were on full alert, their emergency rooms staffed with trauma doctors for the expected influx of injured revellers.
The government has gone to extremes to discourage dangerous celebrations. The health department has shown gory pictures of mangled hands and eyes in posters in the past but the violent tradition has continued.
National police chief Nicanor Bartolome warned officers of immediate dismissal and criminal prosecution if they fire their guns to welcome the new year. But at least three policemen were reported to have violated the warning and were under investigation.
Instead of lighting up dangerous firecrackers, Mr Tayag urged Filipinos to go to public squares to watch colourful fireworks.
He also unveiled a new tactic: a free CD which contains thundering sound of the most powerful firecrackers popular among revellers. More than 50,000 people have downloaded the firecracker audio file from the health department website, he said.