Fireworks, bullets injure more than 260 in New Year countdown
MANILA - Philippine authorities said more than 260 people had been injured by fireworks or stray bullets in the days leading up to New Year's Eve.
The victims of early celebrations on Tuesday included an eight-year-old boy in the central city of Cebu who lost his right hand due to a powerful firecracker and a 40-year-old woman in Manila with an accidental gun wound.
The Health Department said fireworks had injured 253 people while eight others were hit by stray bullets and warned that more injuries or even deaths were expected as the country of 100 million greets the New Year in typically noisy fashion.
Spokesman Eric Tayag said they were bracing for "50-80 fireworks related injuries every hour in the 12-hour period" before and after midnight.
It is a belief in the mostly Catholic nation 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 more than 400 people were injured.
The deaths had triggered widespread public calls for stricter gun controls in a country with a thriving black market for guns where unlicensed pistols can be bought for as little as $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.
And on Tuesday, last minute customers were rushing to buy their supplies, ignoring government calls for solemn celebrations.
"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 favourites 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.