Reports that detail the level of damage in the Pacific Island nation of Tonga are still pouring in. Indeed, three outlying islands making up the nation — Nomuka, Mango, and Fonoifua — suffered catastrophic damage when waves as high as 50 feet washed over them during the tsunami caused by the eruption of an undersea volcano nearby.
Now, however, there’s also news of a miraculous story of survival and rescue. At its center is a man many now refer to as “a real-life Aquaman.”
Lisala Folau, a 57-year-old Tongan man who lived on the island of Atata, told a Tongan media agency he was swept out to sea by the tsunami. Amazingly, Folau explains that it took 27 hours to swim 4.7 miles to the main island of Tongatapu.
Folau was underwater nine times before he was finally able to grab a passing log.
“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,’” Folau, who is disabled and cannot walk properly, told reporters, CNN reports. “So the ninth time I went under and came up and grabbed a log. That’s what kept me going.”
Researchers at NASA have calculated the power of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano’s explosion.
“We come up with a number that’s around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent,” James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR.
An explosion that powerful is roughly 500 times more powerful than that of the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945 at the end of World War II.
The NASA Earth Observatory explains that the force of the volcanic eruption also shot debris 25 miles into the atmosphere on January 15. The eruption also triggered huge tsunami waves.
A Harrowing Ordeal
Folau, a retired carpenter, told Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting that he was painting his home when he was warned about the tsunami by his brother, Reuters reports. He then climbed a nearby tree for refuge.
When he climbed down out of the tree after some waves had passed, a wave Folau estimated to have been 20-feet high, swept him out to sea.
“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 and risk his safety,” Folau said, CNN reports.
After being submerged in the sea nine times, Folau said he was able to grab the log and begin swimming. He finally was able to swim the 4.7 miles to the main island of Tongatapu, and reached the shore 27 hours after being swept out to sea at about 10 p.m. on Sunday, Reuters reports.
The story of his ordeal has gone viral on social media, and some posters now call Folau a real-life Aquaman.
There has been a horrific amount of damage in Tonga. Officials believe approximately 84,000 people, which is more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population, have been affected by the volcano’s eruption, the Associated Press reports.
You can learn how you can help the government and people of Tonga and read more about the volcanic eruption and resulting tsunami in Tonga.