Tourists take refuge as French Polynesia is battered by storms
By Travelmail Reporter Last updated at 12:01 PM on 05th February 2010
A cyclone has battered French Polynesia and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists to churches, schools and temples.
The Society Islands, which includes the popular holiday island of Tahiti, was put under red alert with all roads, harbours and airports shut when the cyclone struck late on Wednesday.
The alert was lifted this morning in the archipelago as Cyclone Oli passed.
The islands were lashed by winds of up to 200km an hour (120mph) which were expected to pick up speed as they headed south-east towards the Austral Islands where a red alert was also declared.
Damage: French Polynesia was placed on red alert after Cyclone Oli hit and hundreds of tourists took refuge
A statement from the French regional commissariat said that more than 650 tourists were given refuge in secure hotels and a spokesperson for the Tahiti tourist board said they were 'safe'.
Another official said of the Society Islands: 'Roads are open, and international air traffic will progressively be back to normal. However, inter-island flights and maritime transport are cancelled until further notice as the weather conditions haven’t improved.'
The official said that tourists were being looked after, adding: 'Hotels and pensions are taking good care of them, and are doing their best to reassure them and provide them with the best service possible given the circumstances.'
The Hilton French Polynesia - with properties in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora - reported that their guests were 'fine' and that there was 'no major damage'.
The Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti said that it was 'safe and sound' now Oli had passed.
Turquoise Holidays - which organises breaks in the South Pacific - confirmed that they currently have clients in Tahiti but that 'at no stage was there any risk to clients'.
A spokeswoman added: 'Those that are holidaying and honeymooning in Tahiti are returning as scheduled.'
A dozen people were reported to be injured in Bora Bora, including one seriously after falling from a roof.
An official said waters driven by Cyclone Oli had left at least one person dead.
High Commissioner Eric Spitz said a 40-year-old man was carried away as pounding rain and winds lashed the Austral Islands, hundreds of kilometres south of Tahiti.
Alain Gylphe told Australia's ABC News: 'It is impossible to leave the island, there is no plane, no ship.'
Ghost town: The deserted streets of Papeete, on the Pacific island of Tahiti
Hundreds of homes have been damaged in the storm and more than 4,000 evacuated as a safety precaution in more populated areas.
Towering waves buffeted buoys off the coast of Tahiti's capital, Papeete while French television showed a naval ship pitching in the storm.
Waves up to 8metres high were forecast and families urged to stay inside as hundreds of homes were damaged, and communication and power lines were down.
Oli was upgraded from a tropical depression to a cyclone late on Wednesday and was expected to reach its peak yesterday.
FCO advice says that tropical storms, including cyclones, can occur between November and April in the region.
EMAIL FROM BALEMAKER TAHITI CLIENT – ODILE PEUGNET
06 Feb 2010
“Dear Peter, Just to tell you that we just passed through cyclone Oli in Tahiti and I wanted to thank you because Medewi Ayu is such a strong house! We are all fine. I hope it is the same for you and your family Hugs” Odile Peugnet firstname.lastname@example.org portable : 29 12 13