The Tongan flagbearer who won fans across the globe at the 2016 Olympics has described the chaotic scenes in his home country after an undersea volcano erupted on Saturday.
Pita Taufatofuathe, who is both a top martial artists and cross country skier, wrote on Instagram that his family in Haapai had all communication cut off.
‘The king has called out all the reservists and the armed forces to prepare for assistance. The information I’ve been sent shows the tsunami going over Popua and the main town in Tongatapu, Nuku’alofa,’ the 38-year-old who lives in Queensland said.
Taufatofuathe rose to fame after images of him shirtless with a traditional Tongan ta’ovala wrapped around his waist as he lead the Tongan Olympic team into the stadium at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics went viral.
Olympian Pita Taufatofuathe, a top skier, canoer, and martial artist in Taekwondo, gained international fans after he carried the Tongan flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio (pictured) dressed in a Tongan ta’ovala and covered in coconut oil
His father is the newly appointed governor of the province of Haapai and was intending to return there from attending parliament when the tsunami struck.
On Sunday, the athlete launched a GoFundMe for donations towards the recovery effort as the island nation has already been slammed with two devastating tsunamis.
‘The eruption occurred in Haapai and spread through to all islands. Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out,’ he wrote.
He said he had not heard from his father, Dr Pita Taufatofua.
‘After getting to the airport his flight was cancelled due to the volcanic eruption. Last we heard he was securing our home in Veitongo right on the water’s edge,’ he wrote.
He added Haapai is a ‘series of lowlying islands’ which would make the tsunami particularly dangerous as residents struggled to get to higher ground.
Taufatofuathe has launched a fundraiser for ‘schools and hospitals’ as a priority after a volcanic eruption off the Tongan province of Haapai (pictured)
The eruption has caused two tsunamis on the province which consists of low lying flat islands making getting to high ground difficult (pictured)
The Olympian said the initial priority for the funds would go towards those most in need, infrastructure, and repairing damage to schools and hospitals.
Just after 11am on Sunday, the British High Commission in Tonga said some satellite phones were working but phone and interest communications on-the-ground were still not working.
Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni ordered bakeries, petrol station, and shops to open from 10am to 2pm to supply necessities.
Reports indicate the air quality is bad as there is still a lot of ash in the air.
There are no reports of casualties, but no reports at all from some of the outer islands in Tongan nation so the situation there is unclear.
‘Most international flights have been cancelled, and options to leave the country are extremely limited. A state of emergency is in force and activities are restricted to prevent the spread of Covid,’ the Australian Smart Traveller site said.
Pita Taufatofua again led the Tongan team out at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (pictured)
A second tsunami later hit Tonga after the massive undersea volcanic eruption, flooding homes and triggering warnings as far away as Australia, Japan, and the US.
The government said no Australians were injured in Tonga, but the eruption led to a major surf event in Sydney being cancelled on Sunday.
A Tongan family recorded the moment water rushed in from the ocean, flooding homes as they finished church choir practice, while the country’s consulate has spoken of the devastation.
‘This is incredibly sad. The damage being done to the Kingdom of Tonga is extreme,’ the consulate wrote on Twitter. ‘The people of Kingdom are strong. Sending prayers to Tonga. Ofa lahi atu.’
Children sleeping in a tent in Tonga after being evacuated from their homes because of the tsunami on the island (pictured)
Part of the devastation the tsunamis have caused in Tonga pictured from the deck of a fishing boat (pictured)
The tsunami forced people to flee after the volcanic eruption was heard as a series of massive booms across several Pacific islands.
Children had to sleep in tents in Tonga after being evacuated from their homes because of the tsunami.
Tsunami warnings were issued for Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Vanuatu, American Samoa, Lord Howe, Macquarie Island, and Norkfolk Island along with Japan, Hawaii, and the west coat of the US.
The warning for Australia was cancelled by the Bureau of Meteorology on Sunday afternoon.
BoM said the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted at 3.10pm AEDT on Saturday.
The tsunami also reached South America and caused flooding in Peru on the west coast of the continent. The Chilean coast of Los Rios, almost 10,000km from Tonga, has also been affected, and there were huge swells in the US.
A tsunami struck Tonga sending terrified locals fleeing for high ground as huge waves crashed over roads and into homes (pictured, tsunami waves begin to flood coastal homes in Tonga on Saturday)
Dramatic official aerial maps showed the eruption cloud over Tonga after the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcanco erupted (pictured, satellite images of the volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday)
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