Pita Taufatofua, an unofficial ambassador known for showing off his buff, oiled chest during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, asked for help after an undersea volcano erupted that triggered a tsunami that hit his native island nation of Tonga.
The three-time Olympian, who lives in Australia, set up a GoFundMe account which raised more than $142,000 on Sunday morning and wrote on social media that communications with his family in Ha’apai had been cut off. Satellite images showed a plume of ash, steam and gas rising in the Pacific Ocean after Saturday night’s eruption and sending tsunami waves crashing into Tonga.
“As far as I know, my father (now Governor of Ha’apai) was trying to get back to Ha’apai from Tongatapu just after parliament opened. After arriving at the airport, his flight was canceled due to the volcanic eruption,” Taufatofua wrote on Instagram. “Last we heard he was securing our home in Veitongo, right by the water. Our family in Ha’apai saw all communications cut off.
“The King has called on all reservists and armed forces to prepare for assistance. Information sent to me shows that the tsunami is passing through both Popua and the main town of Tongatapu, Nuku’alofa. No news from Ha’apai yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I know more. What I do know is that the Tongan people are one of the strongest and most resilient people to honor God’s land. It is in times of great struggle that their true spirit shines.
Taufatofua, who competed in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games in taekwondo and the 2018 Winter Games in skiing, primarily lives and trains in Australia, he wrote on GoFundMe. He became a social media sensation for taking part in the opening ceremonies in traditional island clothing, complete with a well-oiled torso, summer and winter, as he became the first person to compete in three Games. consecutive Olympics since the addition of the Winter Games in 1924. .
“If my ancestors could sail across the Pacific Ocean for a thousand years, not knowing where the next piece of land was going to be, not knowing where their next meal was going to be, going to war, then I could walk 25 minutes to through a shirtless opening ceremony and represent a thousand years of heritage,” he said in South Korea in 2018.
He competed at those Games in cross-country skiing, and for the 2020 Games he had hoped to qualify in speed kayaking as well as taekwondo.
But he tore the muscles in his rib cage, affecting his performance.