Tongan ‘Aquaman’ swims for 27 hours to survive tsunami

A 57-year-old Tongan man is being hailed a ‘real life Aquaman’ after swimming for 27 hours to survive a tsunami.

Lisala Folau was painting his home on the small, isolated island of Atata when his brother alerted him about the tsunami.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday sent huge waves rolling across the archipelago, and they soon swept through Mr Folau’s lounge at 7pm.

He climbed up a tree to escape the rising waters, but when he got down another big wave swept him away.

‘I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming,’ Mr Folau told the radio station, revealing he is disabled and has difficulty walking.

He said he kept floating and slowly managed to swim just under five miles to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later at about 10pm on Sunday.

Mr Folau’s heroics soon went viral on Tongan Facebook groups, with the country still reeling from the tsunami’s devastation.


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‘Real life Aquaman,’ one person wrote. ‘He’s a legend,’ another said.

Atata is about 8km northwest of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa. It has been almost entirely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands.

Tongan naval boats are still surveying the smaller islands and evacuating people to the main islands, while navy ships from New Zealand are due to arrive with a vital delivery of fresh water.

Aid organisations warned salt water and volcanic ash were polluting the drinking supply of tens of thousands after the disaster first hit.

The UN says about 84,000 people – more than 80% of Tonga’s population – have been affected by the eruption, which may have been the country’s largest in three decades.

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