MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Bombed beyond recognition in some places, the Libyan city of Misrata is slowly coming back to life after some of the fiercest fighting of a three-month rebel uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
Excavators are shifting the charred skeletons of vehicles off some roads in the city, Libya’s third largest, and volunteers are sweeping streets or directing traffic.
Committees have sprung up to administer the city in the absence of now defunct government departments, and shops are reopening slowly.
Still, the people of Misrata face a mammoth task ahead given that some neighborhoods are little more than rubble. Water and electricity supplies are patchy, there is no mobile phone network and internet access is scarce.
“You get electricity and water in some places, and not in others. But many people have returned; it’s even busy back in town,” said Abdulla bin Hameda, 37, who runs an electrical goods shop.
He plans to reopen the shop next week after fixing broken windows and damage from rockets and bullets. Other traders in recent days have also been slowly returning their stock from storage houses to shop fronts and shelves.
For weeks forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi laid siege to Misrata, some 200 km (130 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, their tanks entering the heart of the city’s main shopping districts. Snipers took up positions on Misrata’s highest buildings.
Rebel fighters, with backing from NATO airstrikes, pushed Gaddafi’s troops out to Misrata’s outskirts some two weeks ago. Although the distant rumble of shelling can still be heard, the city center is peaceful for now.
“We’re still scared that Gaddafi’s forces might return, but it’s a lot safer now,” said engineering consultant Fatima Jamal, 26, as she came out of a busy supermarket.
Tinned goods, cheese, chocolate and other foods with a long shelf-life are plentiful, but fresh produce is still in short supply. Medicines are also hard to find, but help is trickling through from aid shipments to Misrata’s port.
The city now has two representatives in the National Transitional Council, the interim rebel governing body in Benghazi, which has gained recognition from some foreign states as the Libyan peoples’ sole legitimate representative.
Rebels control Libya’s east and pockets of the west, while Gaddafi, coming under increasing pressure from NATO airstrikes, still holds sway elsewhere and in Tripoli.
Misrata is administered by a hastily formed local council, made up of judges, academics, businessmen and other city notables. The council oversees various newly formed committees, including ones related to the military, health, telecommunications and security.
A finance committee is currently working on reopening Misrata’s banks and is paying state salaries.
Khalifa al-Zawawei, a judge, heads the council, and a former captain in Gaddafi’s army, Ramadan Zarmouh, heads the military council, Misrata press center worker Mohammed al-Madany said.
He added: “Misrata is coming back to life, slowly.”
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Maria Golovnina