Officials in the Philippines over the past month mounted one of the most intensive campaigns in the country’s history to stem the annual tide of injuries caused by New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Grisly posters of mangled hands were displayed. Doctors appeared on television news programs showing the bone saws they would use to amputate fingers blown apart by fireworks. Police officers were threatened with jail if they fired their guns in celebration. One senior health official even took to a stage in a flamboyant dance to show an alternative way to celebrate the new year.
President Benigno S. Aquino III chimed in, pleading in his annual New Year’s message for people to ring in the new year with “horns and loud music” instead of fireworks and guns.
But when the smoke cleared Sunday morning, few officials were celebrating. The Philippine Department of Health estimated that 476 people had suffered injuries during the celebrations, including 454 related to fireworks, 18 to celebratory gunfire and 4 to the ingestion of firecrackers.
The casualties included 177 children younger than 11 and 26 people who required amputations, Health Department officials said.
The total represented a 13 percent decline from the total in the previous year and less than the annual average of 536.
Despite the decrease, however, Manila emergency rooms workers did not appear impressed.
“In my experience, it was worse this year than last year,” said Dr. Janice Sahagun, a surgeon at the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center in Manila.
Dr. Sahagun described a scene similar to one at a medical facility in a war zone, with all staff surgeons on duty, treating patients with severe burns and fingers blown apart. Some had been in traffic accidents, including some caused by a lack of visibility because of smoke from fireworks. Others had been stabbed or beaten in fights related to the revelry.
The annual Philippine custom of bringing in the new year with high- volume celebrations is rooted in the Chinese tradition of driving away bad luck with noise, but it has been adapted locally with chaos, violence and high- powered explosives.
The mayhem was so intense Saturday and into Sunday that more than 10 flights were canceled or diverted from Manila’s airport because of poor visibility from fireworks-related smoke. One of the popular illegal fireworks is called “Goodbye Philippines, ” with so much explosive force that it has been compared to the bombs being used by rebels on the restive southern island of Mindanao.
“If it was surrounded by shrapnel, it would have the power of an improvised explosive device,” said Senior Superintendent Ranier Q. Idio, a police official in the Manila suburb of Quezon City.
Though government officials from the village level right up to the president had worked to promote a safe celebration this year, the prospects appeared grim by Dec. 29, when the police conducted a raid on an illegal fireworks stand that resulted in a gun battle that left one police officer dead.