Christmas on Catanduanes island as Typhoon Nock-Ten hit

When Typhoon Nock-Ten made landfall on December 25, Joana Villaflor had just arrived home for Christmas on Catanduanes island. Joana, a member of On Call Surge Philippines, a shared roster set up by the Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity…


Time to read: 3 minutes


When Typhoon Nock-Ten made landfall on December 25, Joana Villaflor had just arrived home for Christmas on Catanduanes island.

Joana worked until recently for Handicap International and is also a member of On Call Surge Philippines, a shared roster set up by the Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity project. The roster is the first of its kind and provides a pool of skilled, trained and experienced people who can be deployed across the Philippines to support emergency responses by any agency.

Joanna provided information to the Transforming Surge Capacity team and the Start Network agencies, which helped ensure the roster was able to support a response, and she helped Start Network agencies develop a Start Fund alert.

Here Joanna gives an account of the days following the typhoon.

In the days before I went home for Christmas, I was already monitoring the typhoon’s formation in the Pacific, hoping it wouldn’t ruin our holidays. But the Pacific gods had other plans, and as the wind gradually picked up we were forced to abandon plans to prepare fruit salad and various pasta recipes for the celebrations to come - anticipating that our refrigerator would soon be out of action. Sure enough, power went out in our small town, Bagamanoc, on the afternoon of December 25, just as we were finishing the last of the perishable food from our menu.

It’s been years since I was last at home during a typhoon. Catanduanes island lies east of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. It seemed to be right in the path of Nock-Ten and we knew that, as the place where the typhoon first reached land, it was likely to suffer the worst damage. First came the official Public Storm Warning Signal Number 4 – the most severe threat level, with an expectation of winds of more than 185kph within 12 hours. I quickly sent a message to my friends in the surge group, saying that while it would be great to see them, I hoped not after the typhoon. But by midnight, as Nock-Ten whipped Catanduanes with powerful winds and intense rain, I knew I would soon be seeing familiar faces in vests and shirts with their organisations’ logos.

It was another two days, after the roads leading to the capital town of Virac, two hours away, were cleared of the debris left by landslides, before I was able to see full extent of the massive devastation. The typhoon left us without electricity, flattened homes, destroyed livelihoods and cut us off from the rest of the world.

When I reached an area with cellular phone signal, I immediately contacted friends and other family to let them know we were safe, and called my humanitarian friends, alerting them to the island province’s situation. I went next to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management office to ask for a copy of their latest report, which I sent to Start Network. Wanting to see more of the typhoon’s impact, I then tagged along with a group of health workers doing assessments, to verify the reports and get more information.

I was reluctant to do that as I didn’t have an official affiliation or organisation, but duty called. Having carried out assessments in the past, I knew how important and strategic my position was, and how valuable the information got would be to the organisations which I imagined at that point were just figuring out what to do, or had just started forming a surge team.

So Christmas back home was not quite what I’d hoped for, but I am glad that I was in the right place, at the right time - and so was able to do what I should and could to support the conception of a humanitarian effort for my very own province.

Read more about the Transforming Surge Capacity project.