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Tongan Man Survives 27 Hours At Sea After Being Swept Out By Tsunami

For Lisala Folau, human survival knew no boundaries.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano was the largest volcano eruption in three decades. Tonga, a Polynesian country consisting of 169 islands, was nearest to the event. 

As the country recovers from this event, the news of survival and devastation is just starting to come out. One has to understand that undersea cables are what keep communications around the world going, and many of those were destroyed by the underwater volcanic blast.

I Will Survive

One story gaining attention is the survival story of Lisala Folau, a 57-year-old Tongan man who is also disabled. Folau says he swam for 27 hours after he was swept away by 20-foot waves from the tsunami caused by the underground volcano. Folau is a retired carpenter who lives on an island called Atala. Folau told his interviewers (via a radio broadcast) that he has mobility issues that affect his legs and prevent him from walking correctly. He said he could hear his son calling out to him, but he did not respond because he did not want his son to risk his life by jumping into the waves to save him.

"My thinking was if I answered him he would come and we would both suffer so I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming. It stayed with my mind if I can cling to a tree or anything and if anything happened and I lose my life, searchers may find me and my family can view my dead body."

Talk about a father sacrificing himself for his son. Beyond words. After a harrowing journey that involved swimming for 27 hours and floating, despite mobility issues, Folau reached the shore of a different Tongan island, found a crude piece of timber as a walking stick, and spoke with a driver and after some talking, were able to connect him with his family. 

Surviving a tsunami, swimming and keeping yourself afloat for 26 hours, then winding up on the wrong island, and you have to explain it? What a journey.

These stories always blow my mind, so I tend to remember a few from memory. Steven Callahan survived 76 days adrift in a tiny liferaft back in 1981. He survived by catching fish with rudimentary tools, solar stills, and jury-rigged devices for water. 76 days is two-and-a-half months. Imagine surviving in a liferaft at sea from the middle of October to New Year's Eve. 

Other stories like these include Maurice and Maralyn Bailey who survived similar conditions for 117 days and Jesús Vidaña who managed to survive nine months in a fiberglass fishing boat that traveled from Mexico to the South Pacific. He traveled with two others who ultimately succumbed to the conditions. He claimed to survive on fish and sea turtles. 

Tonga Tsunami

We still have not learned the long-term effects of this monstrous volcanic eruption. When it erupted, a plume of gas and debris soared nearly 20 miles into the atmosphere. 

As of now, it appears fortunate that not many densely populated islands were affected, but we do not know yet the extent of the damage.