'Explosions and gunshots': Kiwi tells of New Caledonia unrest

A road barricaded by rioters in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo: Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi/via...
A road barricaded by rioters in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo: Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi/via REUTERS
An Auckland man has described scenes of chaos in Nouméa during the escalating civil unrest in New Caledonia.

Four people have died and hundreds have been injured during rioting by pro-independence supporters over electoral changes.

French president Emmanuel Macron has declared a 12-day state of emergency and about 1200 police enforcements were due to arrive from France.

New Zealand has upgraded its SafeTravel alert for parts of New Caledonia.

All commercial flights to and from the Nouméa-La Tontouta international airport have been cancelled and many holidaymakers were stuck in Nouméa.

Mike Lightfoot is one of those people. He arrived in Nouméa in Monday and described the scenes in the city for Morning Report.

Lightfoot said as he and his wife started to make their way to their hotel they saw protesters, some with machetes, but they weren't too worried.

"It was very peaceful we thought at the time but as we got closer into town we could certainly see there was unrest.

"There was intersections on fire...as we came into the town itself there were the Gendarmerie in full gear ...we thought this was getting serious."

Lightfoot said his wife needed a doctor for a chest condition and as they were in the doctor's surgery "we heard explosions and gunshots very close to us".

"They were rioting right through town, the town was on fire. Fortunately our taxi driver pulled down a side street, stopped for a second, got himself together. There were people running around our car and carrying on and he took off.

"We climbed up in through the suburbs and as we came down to try and get back to our hotel we came to a roundabout and they had the roundabout completely blocked off, there would have been, we estimate, around a hundred and fifty of them there protesting, the whole roundabout was on fire, they had big blocks in the middle of the road.

"As we edged through the smoke was so black we couldn't really see the road. One of them whacked the car as we went through but yeah, it was pretty unsettling..."

His hotel, Chateau Royal have asked people staying there not to step foot outside of the complex and "they've asked us to be prepared, that we may need to evacuate".

About 51 New Zealanders were staying at the hotel, he said.

"We're sort of feeling that people in New Zealand are really not understanding how serious this is and it's quite unsettling for us all here, in fact we want out of here very quickly to be fair."

Lightfoot said the airlines were keeping them informed.

"As soon as we are able to get to the airport they've (one airline) said that we are definitely on one of those planes. Air New Zealand at this point are planning to have a flight here on Saturday, if that goes ahead they also have us listed on that flight to get us out."

Supplies in the issue were a problem and staff were living on site for their own safety, he said.

RNZ Pacific's Koroi Hawkins said some leaders have told him they seem to have lost control of the youth.

Other residents in the city of Nouméa, some of them pro-French, have began to arm themselves.

Unrest a concern - Sepuloni

Labour Party Deputy Leader Carmel Sepuloni told RNZ's First Up the growing unrest in New Caledonia was a concern.

Sepuloni said it was a worry, but she was not sure whether New Zealand would have any involvement in trying to bring the situation in the French territory under control.

At last year's Pacific Leaders Forum, French Polynesian representatives were already expressing concern about how some policies from the French government might affect its indigenous population, she said.