Tonga’s famously oiled-up Olympic flagbearer has raised over $500,000 for his country after it was hammered by volcanic eruption and tsunami – as he reveals his father can’t be found
The Tongan athlete who shot to worldwide fame as his country’s flagbearer at the 2016 Olympics has raised more than $500,000 in disaster relief for the nation after it was battered by a huge volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Pita Taufatofua, 38, who competed at the Winter and Summer Games in two different sports – cross-country skiing and taekwondo – in 2016 (Rio de Janeiro), 2018 (PyeongChang) and last year in Tokyo, confirmed on his gofundme page the damage to his nation has been ‘catastrophic.’
The Brisbane-based athlete also stated Tonga has ‘lost most of its communication with the rest of the world’ following the devastating scenes from January 15.
There have been at least three confirmed deaths, with the tsunami also destroying all the homes on Mango Island.
Taufatofua said the money would go to ‘those most in need, infrastructure as well as damage to schools and hospitals’.
Pita Taufatofua (pictured) became a global star at the 2016 Olympics after he was appointed Tonga’s flagbearer
The adored athlete has raised more than $500,000 in disaster relief for the nation after it was battered by a volcanic eruption and tsunami last Saturday (pictured)
The athlete’s father – who remains unaccounted for – is the governor of Ha’apai, a group of islands in Tonga.
Taufatofua confirmed the rest of his family are safe.
He said he hasn’t focused on the worst-case scenario with his father, and confessed he’d never been as scared as he was when the waves started to smash the island.
‘I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. The magnitude of it, to think there’s a whole country of people in the centre of that.’
The Olympian added he has been attempting to contact his family, but said there won’t be any way to do so until power lines are restored.
‘Communication has gone dark. No one has any real idea,’ he said.
‘I try not to focus too much on it, I’m in the same position as many Tongans around the world. None of us have heard any news.’
Taufatofua rose to fame in 2016 after images of him shirtless and wearing a traditional Tongan ta’ovala around his waist as he lead the Olympic team into the stadium went viral at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted at 3.10pm (AEDT) last Saturday, with chaos ensuing.
Aid planes from Australia and New Zealand are expected to arrive on Thursday evening, carrying much-needed supplies including water, food and communications equipment.
Locals have since cleared a thick layer of volcanic ash covering the runway at Tonga’s main airport.
The tsunami last weekend also reached South America, causing flooding in Peru on the west coast of the continent. The Chilean coast of Los Rios, almost 10,000km from Tonga, has also been affected, and there were huge swells in the US.
Tonga has also lost most of its communication with the rest of the world following the devastating scenes from January 15 (pictured)
The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed the volcano erupted at 3.10pm (AEDT) last Saturday, with chaos ensuing across Tonga