Gaddafi’s forces batter besieged city of Misratah

IN a city under ceaseless rocket and artillery fire, the last thing people want to do is to loiter outside.

Yet with water, food and fuel running low, thousands of Misratah residents queue for hours at bakeries, water tankers and petrol stations, listening to the thump of the projectiles sent to kill them.

“I’m scared all the time,” said Faraj Makrhouh as he queued outside a bakery. The 43-year-old father of three has been driven from his home by the fighting, as has an estimated 60 per cent of this city of a half a million.

Extended families now huddle in relatives’ overcrowded houses, refugees often arriving with only the clothes they fled in.

Families divide the task of queuing: one person goes for bread, another for petrol, another for drinking water. Some families have started digging wells because without electricity there is no water pressure in the pipes.

But the authorities warn that well water is contaminated by the sewage that is dumped from tankers on the outskirts of the city.

Shops have started rationing the basics: some will sell only two tins of tuna per family. But this once-rich trading and industrial city is pulling together to help those who have lost everything. Neighbours donate cash for food distribution centres, where displaced families are handed a free bag of bread, frozen chicken and rice, with a couple of tins of tuna and tomato puree, which has to last for three days.

“Each family gets 20 rolls a day,” said Osama el Shareef, who volunteered at his local bakery, which served 2000 people and now has 15,000 dependent on it. He said about 10 of the city’s 300 bakers were still operating, and baking soda was about to run out.

Gaddafi forces are systematically destroying Misratah’s infrastructure and storehouses to bring the city to its knees, according to Saleh al-Siwi, of the committee of engineers asked by the rebel leaders to prevent the place from running into the ground.

He said Gaddafi forces had cut electric cables, shelled power stations and murdered farmers who dared to bring their vegetables to the rebel city. He said they had even shot cattle and sheep to limit supplies of fresh meat.

Perhaps the most traumatised people in the city are the orphans of the Children’s Welfare Home. The 100 children, aged from six months to 17, were in their orphanage on Tripoli Street when the uprising started, and soon found themselves cut off on the front line. For a month they sheltered in the basement, their teachers reading them stories by candlelight when the lights failed.

After five days without food, carer Salma al-Tir ran across the bullet-pocked street with an axe and broke into a food store. As they were moved out of the home, it was hit by a bomb. Now they are terrified of strangers, and live in an abandoned school in a safer part of the city.

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