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Disabled man swims for 27 days to escape tsunami

Lisala Folau

A disabled man swam for over 27 hours to escape a devastating tsunami on Saturday refusing to call for help in case his son died trying to save him.

Lisala Folau, 57, was swept away in perilous waters last Saturday after the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted in Tonga.

The disaster polluted drinking water, caused havoc at nearby villages and took multiple lives as well as breaking communication networks.

It wasn’t until later in the week until emergency services could arrive at the scene.

Folau was trapped in the tsunami, the retired carpenter who lives on the small island of Atata, almost lost his life, but remarkably he has lived to tell his story.

He told Tongan media agency Broadcom FM: "I just floated, bashed around by the big waves that kept coming.

"Bear in mind that I am disabled. I can't walk properly."

The 57-year-old was at home on Saturday evening with his son and niece when a 20ft wave caved into the house carrying Folau miles from shore.

The devastation called by the tsunami 

When the tsunami first hit Folau and his family climbed a tree staying above water until they thought the tsunami had passed, but when they climbed down a second wave hit carrying all three out to sea.

The only option Folau had was to swim for 27 hours to the nearest island, Tongatapu; part of the journey would be in almost pitch darkness.

After hours of swimming, unable to rest, Folau eventually reached the island on Sunday.

It took him 27 hours to reach dry land where he was picked up by a passing car.

Folau, who has a physical disability affecting both legs, did not shout for help, he was concerned his son or niece would lose their lives trying to save him.

When swimming Folau heard his niece and son calling his name, but he did not shout back for their own safety.

But after being rescued at Tongatapu he was told they are both still missing.

'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 try to rescue me,' he said.

'I thought if the worst comes, then it is only me.'

About 80 per cent of tsunamis happen within the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire.”

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