Party-goers ignore fireworks peril to celebrate New Year

Hundreds of people were injured by fireworks and gunfire as they celebrated New Year in the Philippines despite a graphic government warning campaign.

Doctors displayed surgical saws on TV to show revellers what awaited them if they were hurt by fireworks.

By early evening 230 people had been injured and the number was likely to more than double by midnight as superstitious Filipinos bade goodbye to a year of natural disasters and political violence.

In Munoz a man died in a fire that gutted about 25 stalls selling fireworks.

More than 50 hospitals nationwide were on full alert for the expected influx of injured.

“We’re prepared for the worst,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said as he inspected an emergency ward in Manila’s Tondo slum district – an area notorious for large illegal fireworks.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge fireworks and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.

New Year’s Eve revelry in the predominantly Roman Catholic country has become among the most violent in the world. Last year, 737 people were injured, mostly by fireworks. At least 17 people were hit by gunfire at the height of wild celebrations, including a woman who died.

Although the number of injuries has fallen in recent years, largely due to hard economic times and the government’s scare campaign, the figures remain alarming, Mr Duque said.

The government has gone to extremes to dissuade dangerous celebrations. The health department has shown pictures of mangled hands and eyes in posters and on its website. Government doctors have used bone saws and drills to amputate fingers in mock surgeries shown on TV, but the dangerous tradition has continued.

“It’s extremely difficult because it’s embedded in the mindset of Filipinos that lighting up those fireworks drives away misfortune,” Mr Duque said. “And it’s been a very, very difficult year.”

Back-to-back typhoons struck the Philippines starting in September, engulfing the capital, Manila, in the worst flooding in 40 years. The storms killed hundreds and displaced millions of people.

A political massacre blamed on a powerful warlord clan claimed 57 lives, including 30 journalists and their staff, in southern Maguindanao province. It was the deadliest single attack on media workers in the world.

Capping the disasters was the eruption of Mayon volcano south-east of Manila, which prompted the evacuation of about 47,000 villagers, who spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in crowded evacuation centres.

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