Angel Torno is no stranger to typhoons. After all, the 37-year-old single mother of two grew up in San Miguel town in Catanduanes, an island province in Bicol that often finds itself in the path of severe weather.
She makes a living by retailing Smart load, aside from managing their family’s grocery and hardware store that have survived extreme conditions of the region. Above these establishments is the family home that she shares with her parents. But nothing could have prepared her for the onslaught of Typhoon Rolly (international name Goni) on November 1, 2020.
The state weather bureau raised Tropical Cyclone Wind Signal Number 4 over Catanduanes and parts of Camarines Sur on the eve of October 31. Her family did the usual preparations – secured food and water, sealed important documents, packed clothes in case we had to evacuate and tied everything down.
But Rolly was like no other typhoon. The wind was howling, torrential rain battered their house. Angel said she could feel the walls vibrate like an earthquake. Windows shattered. Part of their roof was blown away.
“All of us huddled in the living room – my two children and my parents. We were scared. All we could do was pray,” recalled Angel. It felt like ages before the storm passed.
And when it finally did on the morning of November 1, Angel could not believe what she saw around her. The sun rose to a scene of devastation. “There was only debris where houses once stood. Structures made of light materials were either flattened or blown away. Even concrete buildings were damaged,” she narrated.
The whole family sprang into action - cleaning and repairing what they could on their own home and shops. A day later, they reopened the grocery and hardware store as the community started rebuilding.
Rolly did not only wreak havoc on the province, but it also cut off Catanduanes from the rest of the country after mobile service installations were damaged causing signal loss.
“We couldn’t reach our relatives here and abroad. We had no idea what was happening around us. We couldn’t call for help,” Angel recalls.
For two days, the whole island went without any mobile service as telcos scrambled to send personnel and equipment to the province to repair downed sites. With a raging pandemic posing additional challenges to logistics, Smart Communications had to dig deep into its own resources and worked with the Philippine Air Force to fly additional workforce and equipment, as well as satellite phones, into the province immediately after the typhoon. And on November 4, 2020, Smart was able to reconnect Catanduanes to the rest of the country, making it the first telco to restore mobile services in the province after Rolly.
Immediately customers lined up to top up their Smart/TNT prepaid SIMs, elated and relieved that they could finally call their relatives. Angel herself called her younger sister in Manila to tell her that they were okay. Their mother undergoes regular dialysis.
“Hearing our voice was perhaps the best thing that happened to her that day,” Angel says.
Rolly will not be the last typhoon to cross paths with Catanduanes. But for residents like Angel who call the province home, they are forging ahead, picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lives. The most important thing is that they are safe.