Tongan Olympic athlete Pita Taufatofua, the country’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies last summer, said his father is safe after the tsunami devastated the island nation. Taufatofua previously had said that he didn’t know of his father’s whereabouts in the immediate aftermath. Tonga lost all connectivity to the world when its underwater internet cable snapped during the volcanic eruption on January 14.
Set to carry the flag again at the Winter Olympics soon, Taufatofua told national news media he had “no idea” where his father, 74, might be directly following the eruption.
This story gets a happy ending, though. On Friday, Taufatofua’s father walked through the front door of his family’s house on the main island, “sun burnt and tired,” but safe. The Olympic Taekwondo and Cross-Country skiing athlete called his father’s ordeal a “big adventure” on Instagram.
Apparently, Taufatofua’s father boarded a Navy boat after the Tongan tsunami hit. But he didn’t just catch a ride to safety. He stuck around to survey and assist with other rescue efforts on smaller islands, as well. Now that aid is available and folks are starting to get back off their feet, Taufatofua’s father finally gets to get off his own for a bit.
Taufatofua said that after a week of working in the community, though, his father immediately wanted to get back out to keep helping as soon as possible. “He wanted to get straight back to work with the community,” Taufatofua posted on Instagram alongside a picture of his father on the sofa on Friday.
“The family wouldn’t let him and here he is safe and sound resting. He’s going to need his energy to help Ha’apai in her recovery efforts over the following days, weeks and months.”
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Taufatofua’s father spoke of “damage and devastation” upon returning home to his family. The Tongan government has shared similar sentiments. To date, Tonga reports three deaths and numerous injuries. A thick layer of ash still coats much of the island community, making everyday work much more difficult than usual. The government is still trying to jumpstart a local economy with very few modern amenities at the moment.
Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said that the “volcanic mushroom plume” extended to cover all of the country’s roughly 170 islands. Tonga houses a population of more than 100,000 people.
Taufatofua, who gained fame for his authentic Tongan dance routine during opening ceremonies of the Olympics, recently asked Elon Musk for help. Musk’s SpaceX program could eventually be a key to helping remote nations like Tonga get back on their feet via satellite communication.
“Hey @ElonMusk, us Tongans got hit by a volcano and a tsunami … followed by no communication,” Taufatofua tweeted on Wednesday. “Any chance we could borrow your wifi? #starlink”
Musk replied that his system may not be capable of helping in this particular situation just yet. “We don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region. That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation.”