Tonga's Famous Flag Bearer, Pita Taufatofua, Raises Over $500K for Tsunami, Volcano Relief

·3 min read
2018 Winter Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony
2018 Winter Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony

Frank Fife/Getty Images

Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan Olympian who has made headlines for years for walking out shirtless and oiled-up during the Olympic Games opening ceremonies, is using his platform to raise money for the victims of a tsunami that hit his country over the weekend.

Taufatofua, 38, launched a GoFundMe campaign shortly after the eruption of an underwater volcano on Saturday caused a tsunami to hit Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago located in the South Pacific.

The tsunami caused at least three deaths and immense damage to infrastructure, including the destruction of all the homes located on one of Tonga's outlying islands, according to BBC.

"As you all know a large Tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption has devastated Tonga," Taufatofua, a martial artist and cross-country skier, wrote on the donation page.

"The eruption occurred in Haapai and spread through to all islands," he continued. "Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out. In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom."

Officials believe the eruption that occurred on Saturday is likely the largest volcanic event to occur on the planet since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, CNN reported.

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Taufatofua's campaign has raised more than $562,000 as of Thursday afternoon, from nearly 10,000 donors.

In an update posted on Thursday, the three-time Olympian said much of the country is covered in ash from the eruption, and communication lines have been disrupted.

"The scale of the devastation in Tonga is just starting to be seen," he explained. "Every island is covered by a very thick layer of ash. This layer affects the air quality along with drinking water and crops. There is fear for the respiratory health of residents; with the prime Minister requesting people wear masks if available while outside."

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Taufatofua said the ash will be a long-term concern for Tonga's residents, as it can hurt agricultural businesses, which are important to the country's economy.

"I'm sure experts in the field will at some stage inform us of the composition of the ash and its overall effect, but for now it isn't looking good," he said.

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Taufatofua said he is currently in Australia for training camp and is doing what he can for his home country while abroad.

"In the coming days, weeks we will need your help," he said on GoFundMe. "Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc. This is an ongoing fundraiser and will be updated regularly. Your assistance and support in this time of need is greatly appreciated."

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