Local authorities in French Polynesia have begun evacuating areas most exposed to cyclone Oli, which has been buffeting the region with waves up to seven metres high and gusts of wind of up to 150 kilometres an hour.
Hundreds of people living close to the sea and river mouths are being moved to safer ground. Flights and sea traffic have been suspended.
On Thursday the cyclone struck Tahiti, reaching its strongest intensity to the south. All islands in the area have been placed on red alert.
Many homes have been destroyed, neighbourhoods flooded and most residents are without electricity. Yet despite the danger, many people have refused to leave.
One man, asked whether he was staying put, replied: “Yes my Mum can’t travel so we’re staying here. We“ll just have to manage.”
In western Polynesia people living in fragile dwellings have been advised to take refuge in stronger buildings such as town halls, schools or churches. Hospital staff have been ordered to stay on duty for 24 hours. The French government says it fears for the safety of many families.