'We tried to tell ourselves we were fine but we were not' - anxious account of Cyclone Gita's onslaught in Tonga

A first-hand account of the havoc Cyclone Gita wrought on Tonga overnight has been described to 1 NEWS by a French ex-pat anxiously sheltering in her Nuku'alofa home.

Virginie Dourlet spent a nerve-wracking night in the Tongan capital, as the bottom floor of her home was flooded and she waited with her landlord and his four children on the second floor.

1 NEWS reporter shows you how Tongans are readying for category 5 storm. Source: 1 NEWS

Their fear was that their roof would be stripped off by the storm.

"Very frightening, we tried to tell ourselves we were fine but we were not, you know," Ms Dourlet said.

"I guess we were mostly concerned about the roof but actually we were concerned for all the wrong reasons."

Ms Dourlet said the worst of the extreme weather conditions occurred for a two hour period from midnight to 2am.

Standing on her veranda in the pre-dawn Nuku'alofa hours this morning (around 5.45am NZDT), Ms Dourlet said the conditions are much improved.

"It's still windy but much, much less. It's much better (than last night), I'm outside and you can hear me," she said.

Her neighbourhood, however, she said had sustained significant damage.

"It's raining again though it had stopped earlier, and although it's still dark I can see there's a fair bit of destruction on my street," Ms Dourlet said.

"From what I can tell right now and from what I have heard so far, it looks like all the houses directly around me are still standing, there are three downed polls leaning very awkwardly but still standing, not fallen.

"There's water absolutely everywhere. One end of the street is blocked by two fallen trees.

"A corrugated iron fence has been pushed from its original place to the the street."

 Ms Dourlet has lived in Tonga for the past five years, and says this was "definitely" the worst weather conditions she has experience on the Pacific island nation - including Cyclone Winston in 2016.

The view of Virginie Dourlet's flooded backyard in Nuku'alofa after Cyclone Gita hit overnight. Source: Supplied