New Year revelry kills 2, injures 804

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- At least two people were killed and more than 800 others were injured by fireworks and gunfire in New Year celebrations in the Philippines, officials said Thursday.

The first fatality was reported from the northern Cagayan province, where a fireworks fountain display packed with firecrackers exploded and killed a 19-year-old man.

Another fatality was an infant who was killed by a stray bullet in northern Ilocos Sur province.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has so far recorded 28 cases of stray bullets nationwide but the Department of Health (DOH) claimed the number of stray bullet injuries remain at nine.

"We simply cannot compare apples and oranges. We need to be consistent (in our year-to-year comparison) so we only include in the report those that come from our sentinel hospitals," said Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag.

2014 New year revelry injury
A man is wheeled into the emergency room after being injured in a firecracker explosion following the raucous celebration to welcome the New Year Wednesday Jan.1, 2014 in Manila, Philippines. Traditionally, Filipinos welcome the New Year with fireworks and firecrackers and making the loudest noise possible, including indiscriminate firing of their guns which sometimes result in injuries and deaths. (AP)

PNP spokesman Wilben Mayor said that three-month–old Von Alexander Llangas of Barangay Anonang in Caoayan, Ilocos Sur was sleeping beside his father few hours after the New Year's Day countdown when he was hit and killed by a bullet that went through the roof of the family's house.

"They heard the baby crying so the mother checked on him as she thought he was awakened by the loud firecrackers. However, she was shocked to see blood oozing from his head," Mayor said.

Doctors in nearby Ilocos Norte province said another boy is fighting for his life after he was hit in the forehead by a bullet that is still lodged in his head.

Mayor said that Rhanz Angelo Corpuz, 2, is still confined at the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Laoag City General Hospital.

Corpuz was hit by a bullet on his forehead while sleeping inside the family's house in San Nicolas town, hours before the New Year's Day.

Mayor said that the figures recorded from December 16, 2013 to January 2, 2014 are lower compared to the 40 cases reported in last New Year revelry.

As of Thursday, the DOH recorded a total of 804 firecracker-related injuries, lower than the number of casualties recorded in the same period last year.

Of the 804 firecracker-related injuries, 793 were caused by actual firecrackers, mostly from piccolo, said Tayag on Twitter.

In 2012, data from the DOH showed that there were 894 firecracker-related injuries, 867 from actual firecrackers, two from firecracker ingestion and 25 from stray bullets.

The DOH started recording casualties since December 21, the first victim being a nine-year-old boy from Tondo. The boy sustained injuries from piccolo which is the most common cause for firecracker-related injuries.

Compare to last year, there were seven injuries recorded on December 22, 2012 which is higher than the recorded casualties on same day in 2013.

According to the DOH, the notorious "Piccolo," one of the prohibited firecrackers, remained the major cause of injuries this holiday, accounting for more than 60 percent of the casualties recorded.

Health officials reported that more than 400 people have been injured by Piccolo and other bangers that have been outlawed in the country.

Dr. Tayag said that a total of 459 (58 percent) of all the firecracker-related injuries were caused by outlawed firecrackers.

"Illegal firecrackers are allowed to be sold. It cannot be stopped although it is also possible that the public are not aware that they are illegal," he said.

Tayag added that illegal firecrackers do not undergo the required safety tests and thus pose more danger to the users.

Piccolo caused the highest number of injuries among illegal firecrackers at 306 (39 percent).

"Many were tricked with the seemingly harmless nature of the Piccolo only to find out and regret it later after sustaining injuries," said Tayag.

Other illegal firecrackers are Atomic Big Triangulo and Super Lolo and their equivalents, Lolo Thunder, Bawang (large), Pla-pla, Watusi, Kwiton, Giant Whistle, Judas Belt (large), Og, Atomic Bomb, Goodbye Philippines, and Kabas.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that raucous New Year's celebrations drive away evil and misfortune, and set off huge firecrackers and fire guns despite dangers and threats of arrest.

This year, there was even firecracker sold on the illegal market — Super Yolanda — which was named after the killer typhoon that hit the Visayas last November 8.

Government authorities say typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 others missing.

The DOH's Aksyon: Paputok Injury Reduction (APIR) 2013 latest report recorded a total of 804 firecracker-related injuries sourced from 50 sentinel hospitals nationwide from the period of December 21 (6 a.m.) to January 2 (6 a.m.).

Tayag said he expects the number of injuries to rise as the Health department continues its count through Sunday.

"The number of injuries is 90 cases (10 percent) lower during the same period last year, which was at 894," noted Tayag.

Among the injuries, 793 were firework-related injuries, including 17 (2 percent) that required amputation.

The DOH noted that of the injured individuals, 294 (37 percent) were only passive users or those not directly handling firecrackers.

Also, the DOH said they were able to record 67 individuals that were under the influence of alcohol at the time of injury.

The DOH also reported that there are a total of 129 eye injuries reported in hospitals with the latest one requiring enucleation procedure, which is an ocular surgery for the removal of the eye, at the East Avenue Medical Center.

This came after a 16-year-old male from Payatas, Quezon City sustained a ruptured globe of the left eye when someone poked a lighted kwitis on him.

The DOH also noted that a new case of fireworks ingestion was reported when a six-year-old male from Las Pinas City ingested a Luces.

This brings the number of cases of fireworks ingestion to two, based on the APIR report.

Since December 21, the DOH has yet to report any deaths stemming from the New Year revelry.

As to the renewed push for the banning of firecrackers, the DOH has admitted that it will not be an easy endeavor to do to pass such a law.

"Our chances, we can say that it will really be difficult to pass a law banning firecrackers. It will be an uphill battle for the DOH," said DOH Undersecretary Janette Garin.

Malacañang expressed support to the proposed total ban of firecrackers being pushed by Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

"It is time to have a safe alternative to the dangerous firecrackers that are used to celebrate New Year," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Several lawmakers, however, were not supportive to the idea saying a total ban is "unconstitutional" and that the responsibility should be left to the local government units (LGUs) instead.

But Garin, a former lawmaker, said the health department will not be pushing for a total ban on all types of firecrackers and fireworks.

Garin said what the DOH is looking for is for a total ban on firecrackers and only a selective ban on fireworks.

"We cannot do it hastily since we also have to consider those whose lives depend on it (firecrackers). This is why we are not pushing for a total ban," the DOH official said.

Tayag, meanwhile, said that what the DOH really wants is to encourage further the holding of community fireworks display, wherein the local governments will hire professionals to handle the fireworks display during New Year celebrations.

"It's like we are saying watch but don’t touch," said Tayag.

Garin said the DOH is supportive of the bill recently filed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, which aims to ban use of fireworks in private households.

"We are supportive of the bill of Senator Santiago since it goes with our campaign for the holding of community fireworks display," said Garin.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, for her part, wants to conduct an in-depth study on whether a total firecracker ban can result to possible worker displacement in the near future. She said that a total ban may have a negative effect to workers in the firecracker industry. (AP/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Third Anne Peralta/HDT/PNA/Sunnex)

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