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Tongan ‘real life Aquaman’ survives 27 hours of swimming after the tsunami

WELLINGTON, January 20 (Reuters) - A 57-year-old Tongan man who said he swam about 27 hours after being swept out to sea during Saturday's devastating tsunami has been hailed as a 'real life Aquaman'.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday killed at least three people, sent tsunami waves rolling across the archipelago, damaging villages, resorts and many buildings and knocking communications out of the nation of about 105,000 people.

Lisala Folau, who lived on the small, isolated island of Atata, which has a population of about 60 people, was swept into the sea when the waves hit land around 7pm on Saturday, he said in a radio interview with the Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting.

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Folau said he was painting his home when he was warned of the tsunami by his brother and soon the waves had passed through his living room.

He climbed a tree to escape, but when he came down another big wave swept him away, he said. The 57-year-old said he is disabled and can not walk properly.

"I was just hovering, hit by the big waves that kept coming," he told the radio station.

Folau said he continued to float, and slowly managed to swim 7.5 km (4.7 miles) to the main island of Tongatapu and reached the coast 27 hours later around 1 p.m. 22 on Sunday.

Reuters was unable to contact Folau or confirm the events.

The story of Folau's heroism went viral among Tongan groups on Facebook and other social media.

"Aquaman in real life," said a post on Facebook, referring to the cartoon and the character of the film.

"He's a legend," said another post.

Atata, located about 8 km northwest of Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride, is almost completely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands. Tongan naval boats are still monitoring the smaller islands and evacuating people to the main islands.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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