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'Real life Aquaman': Tongan man swims for 27 hours to safety after tsunami swept him out to sea

A 57-year-old Tongan man who swam for about 27 hours after Saturday’s tsunami swept him out to sea is being described as a “real life Aquaman”.

Lisala Folau said he was painting his home in Atata – an isolated island of about 60 people – when his brother warned him about the tsunami, which hit land at about 7pm local time following an undersea volcanic eruption.

The waves soon inundated his lounge.

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Tonga volcano: What do we know?

Mr Folau, who is disabled and has trouble walking, tried to escape by climbing on a tree but when he got down another big wave carried him out to sea.

‘Waves kept coming’

“I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming,” he told Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting.

He said he kept floating and slowly managed to swim 7.5km to reach the shore of Tongatapu, the main island, at about 10pm on Sunday.

More on Tonga

The story of his journey went viral, with one Facebook user calling him a “real life Aquaman” – a reference to a comic book character.

“He’s a legend,” said another post.

Atata ‘almost completely destroyed’

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano led to the deaths of at least three people and damaged the majority of homes on several islands.

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Tongan beach devastated by tsunami

Communications were knocked out for the nation of 105,000 people, cutting it off from the rest of the world, while most of its drinking water has been spoiled.

The United Nations said that about 84,000 people – more than 80% of the population – have been badly affected by the disaster.

Tongan naval boats are still evacuating people from smaller islands to the larger ones.

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Devastation after Tonga eruption

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

The first planes carrying foreign aid have arrived and a state of emergency was declared.

The Queen also sent a message of condolence to the King of Tonga, saying she was “shocked and saddened” by the disaster.


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