The first small waves of a tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile reached French Polynesia on Saturday, authorities said.

Residents were asked to move away from the shores and seek high ground while schools were shut down and most roads closed.

The first waves hit Gambier Archipelago at 10:50 a.m EST and Tahiti at 12:50 p.m. EST but Tahiti's seismological center said the waves were only 36 centimeters high.

The tsunami is expected to hit Bora Bora at 1:15 p.m. EST, the French Polynesia High Commissioner said in a statement.

French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang sought to reassure residents saying the territory was used to cyclones and hurricanes.

"We will be vigilant, leaving nature to do its work," he told France Info radio.

"But I am thinking particularly of Marquesas Archipelago, it is the most vulnerable area. Islands have no reefs and the bays are deep so water elevations can be important."

Located in the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia covers a surface of 4,200 km2, roughly the size of Continental Europe. It is made up of 118 islands, which together form five archipelagos.