Pita Taufatofua is raising funds for the island nation, which has been hit by a devastating underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Tonga Olympic flag bearer Pita Taufatofua has learned that his father is unharmed after days of non-communication after a huge underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami.
The Pacific island nation of Tonga suffered extensive damage after the Tonga-Hongga Haapai volcano erupted in a deafening explosion on January 15, causing waves that destroyed villages and resorts and cut off communications to 105,000 people living in its 36 territories. At least three people were killed.
“Just an hour ago, I realized that my father was fine,” Taufatofua told Al Jazeera in Brisbane, Australia on Friday afternoon. “It was a very disturbing time.”
Earlier this week, Taufatofua said his father, the governor of Ha’Apay, had traveled to Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, a few days before Saturday’s eruption.
“He was on a great adventure. When the tsunami hit, he boarded a naval ship and at the age of 74 took part in the Ha’Apay first aid operation, “said Taufatofua, who first drew the world’s attention to the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games. in Rio de Janeiro, where he appeared topless as he waved his country’s flag.
“When we didn’t hear from him or about him, we were quite worried, but we knew to some extent that if he was okay; somehow he would be there in the middle of it all, ”added the 38-year-old, who competes in taekwondo in Rio and Tokyo in 2020 and also represented his nation at the 2018 Winter Games in the freestyle ski competition. 15 km.
The Tongan government has said the country is facing an “unprecedented disaster” and has called for emergency assistance.
Attempts to respond were hampered by communication problems after the eruption cut off the islands’ submarine cable and thick volcanic ash covering the runway at the country’s main airport.
But on Thursday, the landing of the first flights from Australia and New Zealand brought much-needed supplies of water and power generators, as well as shelter and communications equipment. More ships and planes carrying humanitarian aid are expected to arrive in the coming days.
Taufatofua has launched the GoFundMe campaign, which has so far raised more than A $ 600,000 ($ 430,000).
“I received the page within an hour after seeing footage of the tsunami that actually hit, just before communication was cut off,” he told Al Jazeera.
“As soon as I saw him, I knew there would be a lot of damage. It was originally for schools and hospitals, but now, seeing the need in other areas, we are looking at how best to provide initial assistance as well as recovery assistance in the coming months and years.
Once the communications reopen, a team of on-site volunteers will conduct a needs assessment to determine where the most urgently needed funds are.
“We contacted the people in Ha’Apai who were most affected. Initially, we offered to cover all costs for bread or fuel, but I just heard that they lack flour, they lack water. There is this bakery, which has only 60 liters of fuel left. There is a lot of need and we are just looking at logistics to meet that need, “Taufatofua said.
“I think the recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint. The moment of the sprint is the transfer of water and the removal of this ash, which covers more than 170 islands, so that there are no ongoing respiratory problems.
“But it will be a long process and we are trying to position ourselves so that we are ready to provide this assistance in the medium to long term.”