New Year countdown: 50-80 injuries hourly
MANILA, Philippines – The health department is bracing itself for reports of "50-80 fireworks-related injuries every hour in the 12-hour period" before and after New Year's Eve.
Spokesman Eric Tayag revealed this, even as the count of those hurt by fireworks or stray bullets reached 262 as of early Tuesday morning, December 31 – already breaking last year's tally on the same date.
In his tweets, Tayag said the victims of early celebrations on Tuesday included an 8-year-old boy in Cebu CIty who lost his right hand due to a powerful firecracker, and a 40-year-old woman in Manila with an accidental gun wound.
40 year old from Brgy Holy Spirit QC becomes first female stray bullet victim; Brgy Holy Spirit was listed as one of most dangerous in QC— Doc Eric Tayag (@erictayagSays) December 31, 2013
The Department of Health said 253 people were injured by fireworks, 8 were hit by stray bullets, and 1 ingested firecrackers. It warned that more injuries or even deaths were expected as the country of 100 million greets the New Year in typically noisy fashion.
In the mostly Catholic nation, the Chinese belief is observed that making noise to welcome the New Year drives evil spirits away and ushers in good luck.
But many take it to the extreme by firing guns into the air and letting off powerful firecrackers despite a government ban.
Last year, two children were killed by stray bullets, while 207 people were injured. (READ about Stephanie Nicole Ella: In Memoriam: Newsmakers who died in 2013)
The deaths had triggered widespread public calls for stricter gun controls. There is a thriving black market for guns here, where unlicensed pistols can be bought for as little as P4,000 ($100).
By law, shops are only allowed to stocks small fireworks, but many still sell large ones that could maim or kill if not handled properly.
Cops and soldiers were also warned against firing their guns as part of the revelry, saying that demotions or dismissal from service would be a possible punishment.
On Tuesday, last minute customers were rushing to buy their supplies, ignoring government calls for solemn celebrations. (READ: Fireworks, firecracker shopping: Local or imported?)
"It will not be complete without firecrackers. It's a family tradition and we can't stop it just like that," said Jepy Roxas after buying boxes of powerful firecrackers.
Among the favorites are "Judas' belt," named after the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, which consists of a string of triangular crackers that pop like machine gunfire when set off.
A longer version, known by the Filipino word for python, is wrapped around lamp posts or trees to be set off minutes before the clock strikes midnight. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com