Folau lived on the island of Atata and was busy painting his house when of the volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai uitbarstte last Saturday. Shortly afterwards, his brother warned him about the tsunami.
He hid in a tree from the first wave, but then went down. A second wave swept the man along.
Folau told local radio station Broadcom Broadcasting how he was dragged into the air. “I heard my niece and my son calling, but I didn’t answer because I didn’t want them to risk their lives for me,” Folau said. He managed to survive despite his physical disability. “My legs don’t work well.”
The man held on to debris as he drifted away from the land. When the ocean calmed down, he swam 7.5 kilometers toward land, arriving at the main island of Tongatapu a good day later. “I kept swimming thinking about my family.”
Folau is still in shock five days later, a local journalist says. “He also has several scars on his face and body. When he talks about this, he gets very emotional.”
With sixty inhabitants, Atata is one of the smaller islands in Tonga. The island was almost completely destroyed by the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. Tongan rescue workers are working to get people from the smaller islands and transfer them to the larger islands.