Over 450 Injured as Philippines Rings in New Year

MANILA (Reuters) - New Year‘s Eve celebrations in the Philippines seemed less raucous than usual but at least 458 people were injured in firecracker accidents and from stray bullets, officials and residents said on Friday. Health Secretary Albert Romualde

z told reporters at least 16 people needed amputations because of the injuries. At least 10 were injured in gunfire when people fired into the air to celebrate the advent of the new year, he said, despite government appeals for people not to fire bullets. Other were mostly burned or sustained eye injuries from firecrackers, he said. Filipinos traditionally let off firecrackers at the stroke of midnight on December 31 — and for some hours on either side — to ward off evil spirits in the new year. But each year hundreds of people are injured and some are killed in accidents. Thursday night was little different. The sky over Manila, a city of 12 million people, was ablaze at midnight with rockets showering pockets of light into the air while there was a cacophony of noise and light on the streets below. Car drivers, huddled into their seats as firecrackers burst around their vehicles, tooted their horns at midnight while people on balconies showered coins on the revellers below and beat on the railings. But this year the noise all but died out half an hour into the year. "Usually there‘s noise until two or three in the morning," said a security guard outside a bar in Makati, the financial heart of the capital, as the lingering smoke from the firecrackers slowly began to lift. "It‘s much quieter now." Others said the economic crisis in the country had led to less fervent celebrations — and a corresponding decline in the number of accidents. Romualdez said complete figures were not yet available although he was confident that the number of injuries would be less than the 593, including three deaths, recorded last year. "There are many factors that caused this decline. among them is the economic situation," he said. "Injuries are less severe this year, which really means that people are more careful." He said there were no cases reported yet of policemen or security guards firing into the air in Manila, one prime cause of injuries in recent years. Senior police officials have said any policeman found firing into the air to celebrate would be summarily dismissed from service.

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