Shirtless flag bearer's family safe after cyclone devastates Tonga (UPDATE)

Pita Taufatofua, who has become an unlikely star of the past two Olympic Games thanks to his viral shirtlessness, said his family is safe after Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga on Tuesday.

The Pacific island nation was hit hard by the tropical storm in the middle of the night. It left around 40 percent of houses in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa damaged, according to local officials. The country’s parliament building was destroyed, and there was significant flooding.

As of late Tuesday local time, there had been no confirmed deaths, but there have been reports of serious injuries.

Taufatofua, though, indicated his family members had avoided the worst of the storm despite some damage to their homes:

Thankfully family is safe despite some damage to our homes. Close to 40% of houses in the capital city Nuku’alofa are destroyed. Very devastating to our people. I will be looking at ways we can help support over the coming days. #PrayForTonga

A post shared by Pita Taufatofua (Pita T) (@pita_tofua) on Feb 13, 2018 at 7:15am PST


Taufatofua is competing at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but understandably thinking about his homeland. “Things like this really put life and what’s important in life into perspective,” he wrote on social media earlier Tuesday, before getting in contact with his family:

Thank you for all the kind messages of support. Tonga has been hit very hard by Cyclone Gita resulting in a lot of damage. Still yet to hear word on the safety of family and friends along with the full scale of destruction. Things like this really put life and what’s important in life into perspective. I wish I could be there right now to help. #prayersForTonga

A post shared by Pita Taufatofua (Pita T) (@pita_tofua) on Feb 12, 2018 at 5:07pm PST


“Please stay tuned over the coming days and weeks on how to assist our little country,” Taufatofua wrote in the first post.

Taufatofua was born in Australia but raised in Tonga, where his family currently lives. He wrote in the social media post that he wished he could be back home to help.

Taufatofua competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics in taekwondo. He then made a remarkable switch to cross-country skiing, and qualified for the 2018 Winter Games in his final chance to do so.

At 34, he is the only athlete representing Tonga in PyeongChang.

Pita Taufatofua was Tonga’s flag bearer at the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Getty)
Pita Taufatofua was Tonga’s flag bearer at the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Getty)

More to come as the story develops.

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