Lisala Folau, a 57-year-old man from Tonga, swam and floated for 27 hours after a tsunami caused by the massive undersea volcanic eruption on Jan. 15 destroyed his home and swept him to sea.
His legendary story has now gone viral, with people calling him “real-life Aquaman”.
Folau had been painting his home when his brother warned him about the waves heading towards Atata, the tiny island he resides on with a population of 60 people, eight kilometers northwest of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa.
Even though his brother and nephew came to his rescue as waves crashed into his home, Folau, who is disabled and has trouble walking properly, was still separated from his family and swept into the ocean after an unsuccessful attempt at climbing and holding onto a tree.
“I could hear my son calling from land but I didn’t want to answer my son because I didn’t want him to swim out to find me,” he told Reuters.
Out and alone at sea, Folau said he went under nine times before finally latching onto a log for support.
Folau said he focused his faith in God and his thoughts on his family, which got him through the 13 kilometers and 27 hours he braved before reaching the nation’s main island of Tongatapu, where he was then picked up by a motorist.
“No man can withstand the power of nature,” he told Sky News, adding “What we need to understand is how we react when it comes. For me, I just want to be cool and calm when it comes.”
Followed by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which killed at least three people, the catastrophic tsunami sent waves rolling across the Tongan archipelago, destroying villages and cutting off communication for around 105,000 residents and spoiling most of the nation’s drinking water.