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Tonga Olympian Pita Taufatofua loses family contact, says king activated army after volcano eruption

The Tonga Olympian who garnered attention as the heartthrob of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games painted a bleak picture of conditions in his homeland Saturday following the eruption of an undersea volcano near the tiny island kingdom.

“Our family in Haapai has had all communication cut off,” Pita Taufatofuathe, a martial artist and cross-country skier, wrote on Instagram.

“The King has called out all the reservists and the armed forces to prepare for assistance. The information I’ve been sent shows the tsunami going over Popua and the main town in Tongatapu, Nuku’alofa.”

Taufatofua, 38, who lives in Australia, became a global viral sensation when he was seen carrying the Tonga flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the ripped muscles of his shirtless body glistening in oil.

A tsunami hazard zone sign is displayed near a beach in El Segundo, California.
AFP via Getty Images

He described on Saturday how his father, Dr. Pita Taufatofua — a recently appointed governor of Tongan province of Haapai — was hoping to return home from a meeting of parliament when the explosion disrupted travel.

“After getting to the airport his flight was cancelled (sic) due to the volcanic eruption,“ the Olympian writes. “Last we heard he was securing our home in Veitongo right on the water’s edge.”

Taufatofua, a devout Christian, says his nation will overcome the calamity.

Waves are seen crashing on Tonga after a massive volcano eruption.
Waves are seen crashing on Tonga after a massive volcano eruption.

“The Tongan people are some of the strongest, most resilient people to grace God’s earth. In times of great struggle is when their true spirit shines.”

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