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Tonga Olympic flag bearer raises half a million dollars for tsunami relief

Opening Ceremony - Olympics: Day 0

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua of Team Tonga lead their team during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hannah McKay - Pool/Getty Images)

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Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless Tongan Olympic flag bearer who became a social media sensation, has raised more than $500,000 for relief after an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated his nation.

U.N. humanitarian officials reported that about 84,000 people — more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the eruption, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Wednesday.

“Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out,” Taufatofua, who at the time was training in Australia, wrote in launching the Gofundme last week with a goal of 1,000,000 Australian dollars (more than $700,000). “In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom. ... Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc.”

When Taufatofua launched the gofundme, he had lost contact with his 74-year-old father, a governor in Tonga. On Friday, Taufatofua posted that his father had been found safe.

The tsunami severed the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world, leaving many unable to connect with loved ones abroad. Since then, satellite communication has improved, and Tonga’s telecoms operator, Digicel, said it had been able to restore international call services to some areas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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