Tongans Celebrate 'Real Life Aquaman' Who Survived Tsunami

Lisala Folau lived through a 27-hour, 8-mile ordeal at sea before landing 3 islands away from home
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2022 10:00 AM CST
Tongans Celebrate 'Real Life Aquaman' Who Survived Tsunami
FILE - In this photo, volcanic ash covers rooftops and vegetation in an area of Tonga on Monday.   (CPL Vanessa Parker/New Zealand Defense Force via AP, File)

It appears major catastrophe was averted on Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami over the weekend, but Lisala Folau still had quite an ordeal in the aftermath. As communications with the island are slowly being restored, the Tonga man's story is getting out, and it's a wild one. The Guardian reports that Folau, a retired carpenter who has trouble walking, told local radio station Broadcom FM that he was painting his house on Saturday on the island of Atata when his brother warned him about the incoming tsunami. Folau said that waves started washing through one part of his home, prompting him to scramble up a tree with his niece as his brother ran for help.

Folau and his niece finally climbed down from their perch when they thought the waves had subsided, but just then one more hit—sweeping them both out into the ocean around 7pm. "We floated at sea, just calling out to each other," Folau recalled. "It was dark and we could not see each other." He said he soon stopped hearing his niece's calls, though "I could hear my son calling." He managed to grab onto a tree trunk and floated to a nearby uninhabited island. The next morning, after he wasn't able to wave down a passing police patrol boat, Folau decided to set out for the next uninhabited island in the chain, making an eight-hour float-swim that got him there around 6pm Sunday.

It was then that Folau started thinking about his family back home, and how he needed to make it out of his predicament. Per Reuters, he decided to try for the main island of Tongatapu, managing to swim nearly 5 more miles to shore by 10pm, completing a 27-hour ordeal that left him 8 miles from home. His feat has already gone viral among locals. "Real life Aquaman," one commenter wrote on Facebook. Another posted: "He's a legend." The Sunday Times notes the official death toll out of Tonga remains at three, including that of a British charity worker. It's not yet clear what happened to Folau's niece and son. (More Tonga stories.)

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