Tonga - Pensioner with a disability swam 24 hours and was saved from the tsunami

The man told his truly cinematic story and left the whole planet speechless

321cb59d469c844844a158dcb270a03f 42 Disability, Tonga, Tsunami
FILE PHOTO: A view of a beach and debris following volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Nuku'alofa, Tonga January 18, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media on January 19, 2022. Courtesy of Marian Kupu / Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5 / via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT./File Photo

As communication with the Tongan Islands is gradually restored after a strong volcanic eruption that shook the entire planet, the story of a man who was swept away by the tsunami that followed and floated in the huge waves for 24 whole hours, before finally managing to return safely to land has traveled around the world.

Lisala Folaou, a retired carpenter, told local radio station Broadcom FM that he swam and sailed from Atata Island, where he lives permanently through two other uninhabited islands, until he finally reached the central island of Tongatapu, across the island. not at all negligible distance of 13 kilometers.

The station's journalist, George Lavaka, translated his interview into English and posted it on Facebook, from where it was published in the international media.

A shocking story

Folaou said he was painting his house on Saturday when he was informed of the tsunami.

"My older brother and niece came to help me, by then the wave had reached our living room, we moved to another room of the house and then a bigger wave arrived, this wave I estimate was not less than about six meters ».

"Remember I am disabled. I can not walk well. "And when I do, I think a baby walks faster than me," he added.

"We hid on the east side of the house, the waves were coming from the west, so we managed to escape."

He says he and his niece then climbed a tree, while his brother left to seek help. When the waves subsided, they came down from the tree. But soon after, an even bigger wave hit them.


"When the wave hit the ground just below us, my niece, Elizabeth, and I had nowhere to go and were swept away by the sea. "That happened at 7 in the afternoon," he explained.

"We were floating in the sea, shouting each other's name. It was very dark and we could not see each other. "Very soon I stopped hearing her shout at me, but I started listening to my son's voice."

Folaou noted that he then decided not to respond to his son, fearing that he would risk his own life to save him.

"The truth is that no son could leave his father. But for me, as a father, I was silent because if he answered he would jump into the water to save me. "But I understand the difficult situation and I thought that if things got worse it would be better to be alone."

He said he realized that if he was held by a trunk, his family would at least be able to find his body if he drowned.


"I sailed and finally reached the east of Toketoke Island."

At some point on Sunday morning, he saw a boat of the port heading towards the island of Atata.

"I grabbed a rag and shook it, but the boat did not see me. "Then, as he was returning to Tonga, I shook the rag again, but maybe they did not see me again."

He then tried to reach the island of Poloa, starting at about 10 a.m. and arriving at 6 p.m. Sunday.

"I was screaming and screaming for help, but no one was there. "My thought was now with my niece, because we got carried away together and I had survived."

Folaou explained that he tried to concentrate on his next move: "Now I was determined to get to Mui Sopu." Sopu is located west of the capital Nuqualofa, on the main island of Tongatapu.

"I was thinking about my sister in Hofoa who suffers from diabetes and my youngest daughter who has heart problems. "All these thoughts were running through my mind."

Pain and relief

At about 9 a.m., Folaou said he tripped over a house in Sopu, eventually reaching the end of a road, where a passing car stopped and the driver took him home.

The Guardian could not find out information about the fate of Folaou's son and niece, who were in danger with him in Atata. However, only three people have been confirmed dead from the tsunami and no one came from the island.

His other son, Talivakaola Folaou, expressed his gratitude on Facebook: "A story I will never forget in my life… As I talked to my family in Tonga, I could not stop crying thinking my dad was swimming around. "Around the ocean after the tsunami μου My heart aches to imagine you drinking sea water Dad, but you are a man of strong will".

The story, of course, went viral on social media, where it was first shared by journalist Marian Koupou.

Source: Guardian