HomeNewsTonga Eruption: Man Treaded Water for 27 Hours in Harrowing Tale of Survival

Tonga Eruption: Man Treaded Water for 27 Hours in Harrowing Tale of Survival

by TK Sanders
(Photo by New Zealand Defense Force via Getty Images)

As humanitarian aid begins to reach the small Pacific community of Tonga, tales of incredible survival are also reaching the public consciousness. Now dubbed a “real-life Aquaman,” a 57-year-old Tongan man told rescuers that he had swam at sea for about 27 hours. The tsunami swept him up and left him too far out to paddle back to shore.

In a local radio interview, survivor Lisala Folau said he was painting his house when the waves hit. Folau lives on the small, isolated Tongan island of Atata. Only about 60 people live on that particular island, so information and rescue service is scarce. According to Folau, the waves hit around 7 p.m. local time on Saturday, and nobody had much time to prepare.

Folau climbed a tree to escape the first wave. But when he climbed back down, another large wave swept him out to sea. He said he is disabled and cannot walk properly, which makes the story all the more incredible.

“I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming,” Folau told the radio station. Roughly 27 hours later, he floated and swam to the main island of Tongatapu, about 4.7 miles away. He reached the island around 10 p.m., saving himself from another night at sea.

Tongan social media users can’t believe that Folau lived to tell the tale. “He’s a legend,” one user wrote.

Humanitarian Aid Can Finally Reach Tonga and Its People

The tsunami, a result of an underwater volcanic eruption, completely destroyed the small island of Atata. Tongan naval boats are surveying the damage and trying to evacuate residents to the larger islands. Meanwhile, rescue and recovery efforts finally improved for the entire country as the thick layers of ash began to clear from travel routes.

The first aircraft carrying emergency supplies landed Thursday, five days after the tsunami hit. The disaster spoiled much of the country’s drinking water.

Australia and New Zealand delivered much of the aid via their militaries. The drops were contactless to ensure Tonga remains free of the coronavirus. The airplanes were carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies, and communications equipment.

A blanket of volcanic ash had to be cleared from the Tongan capitol city’s runway in order for the aid to arrive. A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules landed in Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport, a defense spokesperson said, as well as an Australian Globemaster military transport.

Rear Admiral James Gilmour, the commander of New Zealand’s Joint Forces, commended Tongan military troops for their “massive effort” to prep the airport. He said it was an achievement “to clear that runway by hand, [which they’ve] achieved this afternoon.”

Telephone lines between Tonga and the rest of the world were reconnected late on Wednesday. Restoring full internet services will likely to take a month or more, according to the owner of the archipelago’s sole subsea communications cable.