Tongan ‘Aquaman’ survives 27 hours in sea following Saturday’s devastating tsunami

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A 57-year-old Tongan man who says he was in the water for around 27 hours after being swept out to sea during Saturday’s devastating tsunami has been hailed a ‘real life Aquaman’.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday killed at least three people, sent tsunami waves rolling across the archipelago, damaging villages, resorts and many buildings and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people.

Watch the video above to see the devastation in Tonga following the tsunami

Lisala Folau, who lived on the small, isolated island of Atata which has a population of about 60 people, was swept out to sea when the waves hit land at about 7pm local time on Saturday, he said in a radio interview with Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting.

Folau said he was painting his home when he was alerted about the tsunami by his brother, and soon the waves had gone through his lounge.

“It was dark and we could not see each other. Very soon I could not hear my niece calling any more, but I could hear my son calling,” he said.

Lisala Folau, who lived on the small, isolated island of Atata, was swept out to sea when the waves hit land at about 7pm local time on Saturday. Credit: Facebook / Vise Lavaki

He climbed on a tree to escape but when he got down another big wave swept him away, he said.

The 57-year-old said he is disabled and cannot walk properly.

“I left everything and try to escape but bear in mind that I am disabled,” he told the radio station.

“I can’t walk properly, both my legs are not working properly and when I can, I believe a baby can walk faster than I.

“So I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming. It stayed with my mind if I can cling to a tree or anything and if anything happens and I lose my life, searchers may find me and my family can view my dead body.”

Lisala Folau (centre), talks about his experience being swept out to sea following the explosion of an underwater volcano off Tonga.
Lisala Folau (centre), talks about his experience being swept out to sea following the explosion of an underwater volcano off Tonga. Credit: Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via Reuters

Folau said he kept floating, and slowly managed to swim 7.5km to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later at about 10pm on Sunday.

Reuters was unable to contact Folau or verify the events, but the senior editor of the radio station shared a translated transcript of Folau’s interview on Facebook shortly after the recording.

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The story of Folau’s heroics 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 film character.

“He’s a legend,” said another post.

Atata, which is about 8km northwest of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride, 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.

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