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Tonga Man Says He Survived 27 Hours at Sea after Tsunami

Lisala Folau (wearing blue printed shirt), 2nd L, a Tongan man who says he swam for around 27 hours after getting swept to sea by Saturday's tsunami, January 19, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. (Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS)
Tonga Man Says He Survived 27 Hours at Sea after Tsunami
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A 57-year-old Tonga man survived a night in the ocean after a tsunami wave swept him out to sea last Saturday.

The incident happened after the huge burst of a volcano in the island kingdom of Tonga.

Lisala Folau told Tonga’s BroadCom Broadcasting that he was painting his house last Saturday when his brother told him a tsunami was moving toward the small island of Atata. The island has a population of about 60.

Folau is disabled and has difficulty walking. He said he climbed a tree to escape the first wave but when he got down, another big wave swept him away.

"I could hear my son calling from land, but I didn't want to answer my son because I didn't want him to swim out to find me," said Folau.

Folau was swept out to sea at about 7 p.m. local time. Then, he said he drifted or swam another eight hours to a second island with no one living on it before finally swimming again to the main island of Tongatapu. The experience lasted more than 27 hours and covered 7.5 kilometers.

Folau said that he went underwater nine times. "On the eighth time I thought, the next time I go underwater that's it, because my arms were the only things that were keeping me above water," said Lisala Folau.

He told Reuters, "So the ninth time I went under and came up and grabbed a log. And that's what kept me going."

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, Folau said he was frightened when the waves took him from land into the sea. “What came into my mind when I was helpless at sea were two things,” he said. He added, “One, that I still had faith in God. Two, is my family. And I only remember how my family will think, at that moment, ‘Maybe he died.’”

New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner Peter Lund said Tongan officials told him last Sunday that a man was missing from Atata island. “And they weren’t very optimistic about it,” Lund said.

There was even a video recorded by Folau’s son Koli Folau, who went searching for his father. The video shows that almost nothing was left standing on the island other than a church, where many of the villagers took shelter.

“It’s one of these miracles that happens,” Lund told the Associated Press.

The story of Folau's survival went viral among Tongan groups on Facebook and other social media. "Real life Aquaman," said one post on Facebook, referring to the comic book and movie character.

When asked if he knew who Aquaman was, Folau said he did not.

I’m Greg Stachel.

Nick Perry of the Associated Press and Jill Gralow of Reuters reported this story. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

sweep –v. to remove someone or something from an area

drift –v. to slowly move from one place to another, especially on water, with little direction

log –n. the main part of a tree

interview –n. a meeting in which one person asks questions and another answers them, especially for news reporting

optimistic –adj. showing hope for the future

miracle –n. an unusual or wonderful event believed to be caused by the power of God

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