Fleeing besieged Sirte, Ali Durgham couldn’t stop the tears as he described how his father had been killed by a stray shell as he walked to the mosque with his brother.
“He died in my arms,” Durgham said. “I buried him yesterday.”
The young man’s uncle is now in Sirte’s Ibn Sina hospital – but it, too, has been hit in the fighting, residents said.
“The hospital is being attacked with shells,” Durgham said, echoing other people leaving the city. “It’s filled with dirt. There’s only three doctors who are working with patients.”
Despite the shelling and a deeper push into the city by interim government forces ahead of what may be a final battle, he said he was determined to go back into Sirte on Wednesday to bring his uncle out.
The stories told by the people streaming out of Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown, mostly recounted at checkpoints manned by anti-Gaddafi forces, provide a grim snapshot of life inside.
“It is unimaginable back there,” Masoud Awidat, who had just driven out of the town in a car with a bullet-riddled windscreen and door, told Reuters.
“It gets worse every day. There’s no food. There are fires, apartments are destroyed.”
Terrified residents are sleeping in the streets and under stairs for fear that their roofs will fall in overnight.
People talked of two families whose cars had been hit by rocket propelled grenades as they tried to flee the city.
One man showed a piece of string holding up his trousers because he had not eaten for so long.
“These used to fit me,” he said.
A Red Cross team who managed to deliver medical supplies to Sirte’s hospital has reported that the city of about 100 000 people has no power. Civilians say many streets are flooded.
Sirte has been under attack for about three weeks, the target of a couple of all-out assaults and near-constant shelling by interim government forces and NATO air strikes.