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Olympics icon Pita Taufatofua has shared the incredible story of how his father, who lives in Tonga, re-appeared out of the blue following a lengthy communications blackout with the Pacific nation.
Tonga has been dealing with the fallout of the eruption of the underwater Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which damaged crucial underwater communications infrastructure and plunged the nation into a communications deadzone.
The eruption, which took place roughly 60 kilometres north of Tonga's main island, sent columns of ash up to 30 kilometres into the air and caused three deaths.
Overseas relatives of families living on Tonga's main island faced an anxious wait to hear of any news from the nation, however communications are slowly being restored.
Taufatofua was one of those relatives, with the Brisbane-born Olympic flagbearer for Tonga unsure of his 74-year-old father's whereabouts for more than a week after the volcano erupted.
Then, out of the blue, his father simply walked into the door of their family home, 'sunburnt and tired' but otherwise safe and well.
Taufatofua said his father had jumped aboard a navy boat to help assist others on Tonga's main island of Ha’apai shortly after the eruption, before then travelling to other smaller island dotted around the Pacific nation.
“MY FATHER IS SAFE and has been on quite an adventure!” Taufatofua wrote on Twitter.
My father has been found safe and sound after an amazing adventure! Straight after the Tsunami at the age of 74 he jumped on the navy boat for first response to Ha'apai. He then got off at an outer island to asses damage and found a small boat to get back to Haapai. Proud pic.twitter.com/xdVZfzSi6L
— Pita Taufatofua (@pitaTofua) January 21, 2022
“He hasn’t been seen or heard from since the tsunami and just walked into our family home in Haapai at everyone’s shock this afternoon.
“Turns out straight after the Tsunami he boarded the Navy boat heading out to Haapai (as the Governor of Haapai) to help.
“He was working in rescue and first response with the navy at the ripe young age of 74 and saw first hand all the destruction.
“He then got off at one of the devastated outer islands to survey and assist out while the navy ship headed back to Tonga."
The 38-year-old said he was 'very proud' of his father's efforts.
In a later update, he joked that the family was practically having to force his father to stay home and rest, after more than a week of hard work helping other around the island nation.
Olympic icon raises thousands for Tonga volcano support
The dual-sports athlete told BBC's Newsday in the aftermath of the eruption that there had been no communication with the main island yet and the money will go toward hospitals, schools, water purification plants or other places in need. The goal is to raise $1 million.
"Anything that needs help, we're ready to go when communication opens," he said.
In the GoFundMe, he said a team would be on the ground in Tonga to assess needs as soon as possible.
Taufatofua became an instant Olympic icon when he carried the flag shirtless and oiled up at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he competed in taekwondo.
He returned at the 2018 Winter Olympics doing the same in negative temperatures in PyeongChang and carried the nation's flag again at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics held last summer.
He became the first person to compete in three consecutive Olympics since the first ever Winter Games in 1924.
Taufatofua said he is currently in Australia training for the 2022 Beijing Olympics that begin next month. He competes in the winter in cross-country skiing.
Tonga, home to about 100,000 residents, was largely cut off from the rest of the world because the eruption cut undersea communication cables.
Information has trickled out through a few satellite phones and full connectivity could take a month to fix. It means the full scope of the disaster has not yet been realised.
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