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GoFundMe started by Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised nearly $500K for volcano, tsunami relief

Pita Taufatofua
Posted at 6:05 AM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 11:47:52-05

At the last three Olympics, taekwondo artist Pita Taufatofua has gone viral as Tonga's flag bearer for his muscular physique, oiled chest and grass skirt.

But with his home country dealing with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis following Saturday's volcanic eruption and resulting tsunami, Taufatofua is now going viral for a different reason.

Taufatofua's GoFundMe campaign in support of the island nation has raised nearly half a million dollars in just three days.

In speaking with the BBC, Taufatofua said that the funds will go to support "anything that needs help" on the island, including "hospitals, schools, and water purification."

"We're ready to go when communication opens," Taufatofua said.

Taufatofua says his family home on the island of Haapai is still standing and that most of his family members are unharmed. However, he said he still has not heard from his father, the Governor of Haapai, who was on the main island of Tongatapu when the volcano erupted.

Communications in Tonga remain limited. Officials believe the underwater cable that provides internet and international phone service to the islands was severed during the eruption and tsunami.

Taufatofua first went viral during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. He led the Tongan team into the Olympic stadium as flag bearer and immediately drove social media wild with his traditional island dress.

Taufatofua then qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea as a cross country skier. Despite the frigid temperatures, he again went shirtless and led the Tongan team into the stadium as flag bearer.

He made his third Olympic appearance as Tonga's flag bearer in Tokyo last summer.