Pita Taufatofua, the athlete who gained fame for representing Tonga as an Olympic flag bearer, has raised thousands of dollars to help the island country overcome the impact of a devastating volcanic eruption.
Taufatofua set up a GoFundMe page on Monday just hours after the disastrous undersea volcanic eruption, and has raised more than A$550,000 (£300,000).
The athlete has been providing frequent updates on the fundraising page, which has seen donations pouring in.
“As you all know a large tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption has devastated Tonga. The eruption occurred in Ha’apai and spread through to all islands,” he wrote in a post.
“Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out. In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island kingdom,” he added.
The donations will be used to support Tonga in its rebuilding efforts. He said the funds would go “towards those most in need” as well as for repairs of infrastructure, including schools and hospitals that were damaged.
Taufatofua also said that since the tsunami, he has yet to hear from his father, the governor of the Ha’apai group of islands.
Latest pics from #Tonga - courtesy of local journalist Marian Kupu of Broadcomm Broadcasting (she's on FB if media want to talk to someone on the ground). So happy to see the Pacific spirit in effect! @DigicelTO international calls now possible #Tonga #TongaVolcano #tongatsunami pic.twitter.com/Pp5jMAT8xH
— Josephine Latu-Sanft (@JoLatuSanft) January 19, 2022
The Pacific Island country was left uncontactable after the tsunami destroyed electricity, internet and telephone wires.
Large plumes of smoke and ash over the islands could be seen in satellite images captured soon after the volcanic eruption. In coastal areas many trees as well as buildings and other infrastructure were destroyed.
For the first few days, Tonga remained completely cut off from the rest of the world and it was impossible to get details of the destruction or any fatalities.
Aerial images taken by the New Zealand Air Force showed several villages on the Tongan islands had been wiped out.
The Tongan government described the aftermath of the tsunami waves that came after the eruption as an “unprecedented disaster”.
Taufatofua had said on Instagram on Wednesday that he had received word that his family on Ha’apai was safe “and that our Ha’apai home ‘Fuino’ is still standing! It’s over 100 years old and has been through many cyclones and now a tsunami.”
He added that there was, however, “still no word from my father or our family on Kotu and surrounding lower islands”.
Officials say the restoration of full internet connectivity to Tonga could take four weeks or more.
Taufatofua had received global attention after photos of him representing Tonga in several Olympic events went viral.
He had been seen during the 2016 Olympic opening ceremony in traditional Tongan attire.
Taufatofua, who was not wearing a shirt, had oiled himself up as he represented his home country during the event, leading to people across the world praising the athlete’s physique on social media.
— tb (@TmmyBaks) July 23, 2021
To the delight of several social media users, Taufatofua repeated his performance twice in the years after.
For the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, the Tongan athlete braved the cold and bore the country’s flag shirtless. He represented his country again in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, delighting his fans.
Taufatofua represented Tonga in taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and in cross-country skiing at the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics in 2018.
He said on the fundraising page that he was currently training in Australia.