Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in Tuvalu, with strong winds and giant waves churned up by Cyclone Tino causing extensive damage across the country.

Few of the country's 14 islands were spared damage, said Sumeo Silu, the director of the country's disaster management office. Two hundred people had been evacuated on main island Funafuti alone, he said, as reports of significant damage to infrastructure came in from outer islands.

"It's quite devastated," Mr Silu said.

On Funafuti on Friday, the normally calm and shimmering lagoon was stirred into a raging muddy cauldron. In the tempest, two giant barges were shunted from their moorings onto the beach, said Semi Malaki, a local broadcaster.

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A barge that was moored in Funafuti lagoon was shunted onto the beach by Cyclone Tino. Photo / Semi Malaki
A barge that was moored in Funafuti lagoon was shunted onto the beach by Cyclone Tino. Photo / Semi Malaki

"It was anchored in the main lagoon, it's on the shore now," he said.

On Thursday and Friday, Cyclone Tino was some 500km away from Funafuti, in the waters of northern Fiji, but it still cast strong winds that blew roofs off houses and uprooted many trees.

But most damaging were the large waves that were whipped up by a cyclone that combined with a king tide to strike the low-lying nation. In the open waters, there were waves as high as eight metres, Mr Silu said. In a country where the highest point is four metres, damage was inevitable.

"The waves are so huge they've been overtopping the roads and there is a lot of debris around the island," Mr Silu said. "Of course there's a lot of erosion around the islands too."

In narrower parts of Funafuti, the raging Pacific rushed right over into the lagoon on the other side, in some cases, an already retreating coastline has been eroded back by metres. The centre of Funafuti, where the government offices, airport and two hotels are, land that was reclaimed for the convention centre that hosted August's Pacific Islands Forum was washed over.

Debris across the one main road on Tuvalu's main atoll, Funafuti. Photo / Aselu Lopati
Debris across the one main road on Tuvalu's main atoll, Funafuti. Photo / Aselu Lopati

People along the coast and at each end of the Funafuti - the narrowest parts - had been evacuated, Mr Silu said, and hundreds of others were evacuated in outer islands that had also been inundated. The Tuvalu Red Cross said it helped more than 100 houses with supplies.

Damage assessments were being conducted and the government had activated its national disaster committee, Mr Silu said, but there were already fears about what effect Tino would have on already vulnerable food supplies.

"A lot of our bananas, breadfruit, crops have been uprooted," he said. "Another is the salt intrusion, the salt spray were devastating our vegetable and vegetation."

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People ride their scooters through the debris washed up by Cyclone Tino on the main island, Funafuti. Photo / Aselu Lopati
People ride their scooters through the debris washed up by Cyclone Tino on the main island, Funafuti. Photo / Aselu Lopati

Mr Malaki said that on Saturday the weather had finally settled, and the people of Funafuti were out tidying up. The swarms of mopeds were back buzzing up and down the atoll, and families were raking and sweeping debris off roads and around their houses.

In a country that's seen little rain since November, Mr Malaki found some people who were having fun.

"When you went around you could see young children playing in the rain, the runway was full of young kids playing soccer and rugby in the rain."

- RNZ