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Couple’s nine-day nightmare after crisis

Written by on May 21, 2024

An Australian couple stuck in the crosshairs of political unrest in New Caledonia have shared how their first romantic getaway without their children ended in disaster.

Currently on their ninth day in Nouméa, where violent unrest and riots have erupted due to contested electoral reform, Australian doctors Max and Tiffany Winchester told Today they were living in uncertainty.

While they were hopeful they would be evacuated, Max said they were waiting for Nouméa’s La Tontouta International Airport to-reopen, which would allow commercial flights to resume.

Max said it was his understanding the French government didn’t want Australian Defence Force aircraft on the island territory, so their only option was waiting.

“The latest is we’re being told to be prepared to be evacuated at any point, but who knows when that will be. The latest on the airport is possibly earliest opening on Friday,” he said.

His wife, Tiffany said couple were just trying to do the “best as we can”.

“Food is tight, we’re running out of medication. Many people are,” she said.

“We try not to get our hopes up too much because they get crashed down every day.”

Dr Max previously told the publication how they can see fires and smell smoke from their resort.

“We can’t leave here, we’re basically trapped because they’ve locked all the roads with these blockades and there’s nowhere to go anyway because many of the supermarkets are burnt out, looted and people are now doing without food.

“They’re trying to ship food in, but you can’t get the food to the supermarkets because of the roadblocks, so there are people having to scavenge coconuts to eat.”

Located about 1200km off Australia’s east coast, pro-independence groups have rebelled against potential reform which would allow people who’ve lived on the island for more than 10 years to vote in local elections.

Six people have died in the unrest, including two police officers, with France declaring a state of emergency.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she and New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peter, had spoken to their French counterpart Stéphane Séjourné, to “convey our condolences, express our gratitude for French efforts to restore calm, and reiterate our request for access”.

While she’s previously said the ADF was “ready to fly,” the government needs approval from French authorities to send an evacuation flight to rescue stranded tourists.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called the situation in New Caledonia “deeply concerning,” and said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was working with French authorities to broker a solution.

“We know that the situation there is deeply concerning. We’re doing everything possible to help Australians on the ground,” he told ABC Radio Perth on Monday.

“We are working with the French authorities. They’re advising at the moment that the situation on the ground is preventing flights.

“We continue to pursue approvals because the Australian Defence Force is ready to fly when it’s permitted to do so.”