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Pita Taufatofua: Olympic flagbearer’s father home safe after ‘big adventure’

<i>Theo Wargo/Getty Images</i><br/>Tonga is reportedly set to be without full internet connectivity for a month as a result of the eruption
Getty Images for TIME
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Tonga is reportedly set to be without full internet connectivity for a month as a result of the eruption

By Jack Bantock, CNN

Tongan Pita Taufatofua says his father is safely home after the Olympic athlete was unable to make contact him following the “devastating” tsunami that hit the nation on Saturday.

Earlier this week Taufatofua, who became widely recognized after being his country’s flagbearer at the Summer and Winter Olympics, told CNN that he had “no idea” of his 74-year-old father’s whereabouts following the massive eruption of the underwater Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.

But on Friday, his father walked through the door of Taufatofua’s family home on the main island of Ha’apai — “sun burnt and tired,” but safe after a “big adventure,” said the Olympic athlete in an Instagram post on Friday.

Taufatofua said his father had boarded a Navy boat in the immediate wake of the tsunami, supporting rescue and first response on the main island of Ha’apai before departing the boat to “survey and assist out” on the outer islands.

After almost a week working in first response, the 74-year-old got a small boat to return him to Ha’apai and his family home — much to the “shock” of his family.

“He wanted to get straight back to work with the community,” Taufatofua posted on Instagram alongside a picture of his father on the sofa on Friday.

“The family wouldn’t let him and here he is safe and sound resting. He’s going to need his energy to help Ha’apai in her recovery efforts over the following days, weeks and months.”

Elon Musk assesses aid options

Taufatofua said that his father had spoken of the “damage and devastation” in some of the country’s outer islands, echoing updates provided by the Tongan government on Tuesday.

In its first official update since Saturday’s eruption, Tonga’s government confirmed the deaths of three people and several other injuries.

Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni added that the “volcanic mushroom plume” extended to cover all of the country’s roughly 170 islands — of which 36 are inhabited — impacting the entire population of more than 100,000 people.

Tonga is reportedly set to be without full internet connectivity for a month as a result of the eruption, leading Taufatofua — who has established a GoFundMe fundraising page to help those most affected by the tsunami — to ask Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for assistance.

“Hey @ElonMusk, us Tongans got hit by a volcano and a tsunami … followed by no communication,” Taufatofua tweeted on Wednesday.

“Any chance we could borrow your wifi? #starlink”

A division of SpaceX, Starlink uses satellites in low orbit to “provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet” worldwide, according to their website.

Responding to the report by Reuters regarding Tonga’s internet outage, on Friday Musk tweeted: “Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?”

Earlier on Friday, New Zealand member of parliament Dr. Shane Reti tweeted an image of a letter addressed to Musk — dated January 17 — asking if he could provide “urgent Starlink internet communications to public officials and the good people of Tonga in this moment of need.”

Having been made aware of Dr. Reti’s tweet by another user, Musk replied that “this is a hard thing for us to do right now.”

“We don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region. That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation.”

CNN has reached out to SpaceX for comment.

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