Tonga’s Shirtless Olympic Flag Bearer Pita Taufatofua Raises $600,000 For Volcanic Eruption Victims
An Olympic athlete from Tonga, who went viral for carrying his flag shirtless and slathered in coconut oil while wearing a traditional Tongan ta’ovala at the 2016 Rio and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, has created a GoFundMe to help the people affected by a massive volcanic eruption in his home country.
Pita Taufatofua, who is an athlete in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, created the campaign on Saturday, the day of the most forceful eruptions. He clarified that he was safe because he had been in a training camp in Australia, but that the island was in a dire state including being entirely covered by ash.
There were several underwater and above-water eruptions, which occurred in the Ha’apai region of the archipelago kingdom, on January 14 and 15. Full damage assessments haven’t been completed, but it looks like the island nation was severely damaged by falling ash and massive tsunamis that spread from the eruption.
Communications to and from the island were also severed, likely due to the damaging of an underwater cable. Phones have since been reconnected, but the internet on the island will reportedly take around a month to restore.
Taufatofua has been consistently updating backers on the status of his relief efforts on the page. On Thursday, he wrote that he was collaborating with a bakery in Ha’apai to distribute fresh bread to families whose homes have been destroyed. He also worked with UNICEF and the Australian government to ship a load of sanitary kits, water purification kits and recreation kits from Brisbane to affected islands in the kingdom.
He has also been delivering sober reports on Tonga’s growing death count and just how widespread the destruction was. According to some reports, the eruption may have been more powerful than any nuclear test ever conducted in history.
Taufatofua wrapped up his most recent update thanking the current GoFundMe backers, who have raised over $600,000 so far but also tells them “we are just getting started” in terms of recovery efforts. More help and donations are absolutely needed.
You can view and donate to Taufatofua’s GoFundMe here.