Following the massive underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga that triggered a tsunami and blanketed the country in ash on Saturday Jan. 15, Tonga’s Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $400,000 in relief through a fundraising campaign.
“Thank you all for the messages. No word from my Father or Family in Haapai. All communication in Tonga is out. I have setup a fundraiser, link in bio for anyone wanting to help,” he tweeted. “Whilst I can’t assist family at this moment I will focus on country as more Information comes out.”
The scale of the disaster, which authorities called “unprecedented”, has covered all of the country’s 176 islands, destroying homes, leaving tens of thousands without drinkable water after salt water from the tsunami and volcano ash contaminated water sources.
Communications remained limited, as Tonga’s undersea cable that connected it to the rest of the world was severed as a result of the eruption.
Experts say it may be the world’s biggest volcano eruption in more than 30 years, according to CNN, and the force of the eruption was estimated to be more than 500 times stronger than that of the nuclear bomb that the US dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II, a leading NASA scientist told Reuters.
Since the disaster, Taufatofua, who is a UNICEF ambassador and climate activist, has been sharing news about and calling for assistance for his country.
The funds from his GoFundMe will be distributed to those in need, as well as for the repairs of infrastructure, and schools and hospitals that were damaged, according to the fundraising page.
On Wednesday, the 37-year old taekwondo player and skier posted on Instagram that he has yet received news from his father, the Governor of Haapai, who was on the main island of Tongatapu when the volcano erupted, according to CNN.
Two days later, on Friday Jan. 21, Taufatofua said that his father had returned home safe, having boarded a navy boat to help straight after the tsunami.
Taufatofua became a viral hit after his appearance at the 2016 Rio Games, shirtless, oiled-up, and wrapped up in a Tongan mat around the waist.
He was seen again in the same garb despite the freezing temperatures at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and once again at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.