Long wait for workers during siege

The Warrawong McDonald’s did a roaring trade yesterday morning as a crowd gathered in the car park to witness the police lockdown taking place across the road.
Nanjing Night Net

People wait outside Westfield Warrawong yesterday as police sweep the area for gunmen rumoured to be in the complex. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

The normally busy Westfield Warrawong – the major shopping centre between Wollongong and Shellharbour – had been shut down following reports of gunmen inside.

Uniformed police stood guard at entry points around the building, and traffic was diverted.

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A police command post had been set up some distance away, across the playing fields to the south of the shopping centre.

The buzz of news helicopters could be heard overhead, punctuated every now and then by the wailing of the shopping centre alarm.

It was a mixed assembly gathered in the McDonald’s car park.

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Some were onlookers, drawn by the strong police presence and reports of the operation.

Others were workers, unsure if their businesses would be able to open later in the afternoon.

Some had been evacuated from the centre early in the morning, while many arrived to find they were unable to get inside.

Debbie Pearce, from the Amcal Max pharmacy, arrived about 8.15am, roughly two hours after police were called to the complex.

“I got detoured over to the other side of the Kemblawarra football field and sat in my car,” she said.

Another worker, who asked not to be named, said he arrived to see “helicopters and police everywhere”.

Road blocks were in place in King Street, Northcliffe Drive and parts of Cowper Street to divert traffic around the complex.

Onlookers and news crews had also collected in Cowper Street on the northern side of the shopping centre. Jackie Webber, who lives in Cowper Street, said heavily armed police had entered the front of the building.

“I was walking to go to the bus and then I saw probably about eight of them coming around from the cinemas around the front where the medical centre is.”

It was not until about 12pm that the first tenants were allowed back inside, soon followed by a trickle of customers.

A police sweep of the centre had found no trace of the gunmen.

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