A 57-year-old man in Tonga was thought to be lost after he was swept away by the tsunami that struck Tonga over the weekend.
Although the island nation has been mostly cut off from the rest of the world after the disaster, a man revealed that he swam between islands for over 24 hours after he was swept away.
The man, Lisala Folau, is a retired and disabled carpenter. He told the Tongan radio station Broadcom FM that he swam and floated from his island of Atata to reach the main island of Tongatapu, which is around 8 miles or 13 kilometers away.
Senior editor at the radio station, George Lavaka, posted the man’s story to Facebook.
George Lavaka Shares The Incredible Story Of Disabled Swimmer Survivor
“The testimony of a disabled survivor, Lisala LATU, from the island of Atata during the violent eruption Hunga-Ha’apai-Hunga-Tonga volcano last Saturday. The island is being evacuated to mainland Tongatapu,” Lavaka began before launching into the full transcript.
“My respects and thank you for this opportunity for me to share the difficulties that happened in the country,” he began.
“Perhaps the church leaders and the town officer knows my state of health and the work I use to do is carpentry but I can’t do any more,” Folau explained. “I now can only do domestic and household work, and [also] patching up some homes and assist any of my family that needs my help.”
“On Saturday afternoon I was working at home painting, just improving our house when I was alerted by my elder brother to do something for there was a tsunami wave,” he continued. “I left everything and try to [escape] but bear in mind that I am disabled. I can’t walk properly, both my [legs] are not working properly and when I can, I believe a baby can walk faster than I.”
“My elder brother and a nephew came to my assistance,” he explained. “This time the wave has gone through our lounge, we moved to another part of the [house] when a bigger wave, this wave I would estimate was about not less than 6 [meters] and it has already break in the middle of the island.”
“We hid to the eastern side of the house,” he went on. “The waves were coming from the west so we escaped that wave, I listened and the trust was on my elder brother for I can’t do anything to help.”
“We were on a tree with our nephew,” he continued. “My brother told us to stay put with my [niece] on the tree while he [sought] help from [a] house on higher grounds and to find some youth to bring me up there. Anyway my niece jumped down (from the tree) not knowing what was in her kind, and tried to help to get to the house. It was a lull that time, the waves were slower coming.”
“When we got down, a woman named Tolofii and her mother, Vai and another woman who is my niece named Elisiva. They asked for my nephew to help rescue an elderly woman and for me to be assisted by Elisiva to the higher house,” he explained. “It was a hard task Elisiva assisting me for the it was getting cold and my feet could hardly move. Just then my elder brother yelled out to us there was a big wave coming in. I just turned and looked at the wave, it was a bigger wave than the 6metres that destroyed our house.”
“When the wave break on land just below us, my niece Elisiva and I had nothing to hold onto and we were swept out to sea,” he said. “This was 7pm.”
‘The Truth Is No Son Can Abandon His Father’
“We floated at sea, just calling out to each other,” he explained. “It was dark and we could not see each other. Very soon I could not her [my] niece calling any more but I could hear my son calling. The truth is no son can abandon his father.”
“But for me, as a father I kept my silence for if I answered him he would jumped in and try to rescue me,” he said. “But I understand the tough situation and I thought if the worst comes and it is only me.”
“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,” he went on. “The pathway in the ocean and it stayed with my mind if I can cling to a tree or anything and if anything happen and I lose my life, searchers may find me and my family can view my dead body.”
“I was thinking after floating and drifting I landed on hard ground then I would seek help,” he recalled. “But this is just my testimony to the minister (of the church), praise be to God’s manna to save me.”
“I floated and was grounded to the east of the island of Toketoke,” he added. “I kept trying. By Sunday morning about 7am I saw the police patrol boat heading to Atata iasland. I grabbed a rag and waved but the boat did not see me. It then was returning to Tonga and I waved again but perhaps they did not see me.”
“I [then] tried to get to the island of Polo’a, thanks I still had some energy and I thought I still had the energy to get to Polo’a,” he said. “I started there about 10 in the morning and I finally got there at 6pm. I called and yelled for help but there was no one there. My mind was now on my niece that we were washed away together and now I have survived.”
“I was now strong-minded that I could make it to mui’i Sopu (western edge of Nuku’alofa) for I know my family were very worried,” he continued. “I am thinking about [my] sister at Hofoa who is suffering with diabetes and my [youngest] daughter has heart problems. All these were racing in my [mind] and what point was there that now I have survived and what about them. This drove me to get to Sopu. I struggled and got to the beach in front of the home of Paula Fukofuka in Sopu.”
“It was about 9pm.”
Lisala Folau ‘Called For Help But Received No Response’
“I crawled from there to the end of tarsealed public road by the Fisheries Complex and there I found a piece of timber that supported me as a walking-stick,” he explained. “I tried to get to the Fisheries so I can ask the security officer there to use his phone to call my family. I got there and called for help but [received] no response.”
“I kept walking and met a vehicle and I asked for help,” he went on. “He questioned me and I told him I am the one washed away from Atata and I have survived and am trying to contact my home. I just found out the driver was Lavi who took me to his home and the people of the village were shocked (that I survived).”
“And it was the manna of God to me and my family, and the church as well as Atata, so unexpected that I survived after being washed away, floating and surviving the dangers I just faced,” he added.
“Today my sincere thanks to the minister (of the church), town officer as well as the country as a whole, I know you prayed for me during the hardships I came through but thanks I am back to make up the number was lost from our island (Atata),” he concluded.
The post received over 200 likes from people who thanked him for sharing his heartwarming story of survival.