Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

French Polynesia islands battered by Cyclone Oli

Strong winds in Papete, Tahiti (4 Feb 2010)
People not evacuated have been urged to stay indoors

One person has died and thousands have been evacuated in French Polynesia as Cyclone Oli batters the archipelago.

A red alert was declared in Tahiti and nearby islands, where winds of up to 200km/h (120mph) have hit.

Several other people are reported to have been injured while officials said hundreds of homes had been damaged and power and telephone lines brought down.

Schools and roads have been closed and car travel banned on several islands in the region.

At least 3,400 people living close to the shoreline in Tahiti and Moorea were moved from their homes, said officials.

A 40-year-old man died after he was swept out to sea by high waves around the island of Tubuai in the Austral islands, south of Tahiti, said High Commissioner Eric Spitz.

There were also reports that one man was seriously injured falling from his roof in Bora Bora.

Moving south

Magali Charbonneau, senior adviser to the region's top French official, said evacuees were being housed in churches, schools and temples, the Associated Press reported.

Ms Charbonneau said people not evacuated should stay indoors.

Forecasters say the cyclone is expected to continue moving south towards the Austral islands.

One man on Tubuai said residents had had to move to higher ground.

"It is impossible to leave the island, there is no plane, no ship, and no, it's a high island," Alain Gylphe told Australia's ABC News.

Cyclone Oli had been upgraded from a tropical storm on Wednesday night, the island's high commissioner said.

The French Minister for Overseas Territories, Marie-Luce Penchard, who has been in Tahiti's capital Papeete since Sunday, told the AFP news agency on Thursday many families were facing "grave health dangers".

If there was widespread damage, she would be visiting affected areas "to see how France can help Polynesia", she added.

In a statement, the High Commission for the islands recommended "staying at home or joining communal shelters".

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