Image: Satellite view of cyclone
Joint Typhoon Warning Center
This satellite image shows Tropical Cyclone Oli on Thursday.
updated 2/4/2010 4:25:02 PM ET 2010-02-04T21:25:02

Cyclone Oli buffeted French Polynesia on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists to churches, schools and temples.

The archipelago that includes Tahiti was under red alert until the cyclone passes, and all roads were closed. Towering waves were buffeting buoys off the coast of Tahiti's capital, Papeete. French television showed a naval ship pitching in the storm.

Around 3,500 people in Tahiti and Moorea who risked being swept away or inundated by lashing waves were evacuated, officials said, and about 50 homes were destroyed in Moorea.

A dozen people were reported injured in Bora Bora, including one seriously injured after falling from a roof. Bora Bora is located in the Iles-Sous-le-Vent archipelago. Tahiti and Moorea are in another archipelago known as Iles-du-Vent.

Magali Charbonneau, senior adviser to the region's top French official, said on RFO radio that evacuees were being housed in churches and schools.

Charbonneau predicted waves up to 26 feet high, and urged families — especially children — to stay inside. Hundreds of homes were damaged, and communication and power lines were down. She said evacuees were being housed in churches, schools and temples.

A statement from the French regional commissariat said that more than 650 tourists were given refuge in secure hotels, but provided no further information. The statement said a fisherman was rescued at sea.

Winds overnight to Thursday averaged 90 miles an hour, with gusts at 120 miles an hour, and were expected to pick up speed, according to the statement.

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