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Libyans flee fighting in Ajdabiya, end up in harshness of desert

From Arwa Damon, CNN
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Libya's civil war making families homeless
  • Tents have sprouted in the rolling desert
  • People fleeing Ajdabiya have nothing with them
  • The situation is dire for Libya's war displaced

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Ajdabiya, Libya (CNN) -- Outside the Libyan city of Ajdabiya, tents have sprouted in the rolling desert, where the sands blow and farmers grow figs and grapes.

In the city, a fierce fight rages for control between the Libyan opposition and forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi, whose tanks lob shells to push their foes back.

At night, coalition planes roar overhead, pounding Gadhafi's positions. Early Friday, British jets pounded Libyan armored vehicles. But they have not been able to stop the battle on the ground, and residents are escaping to safer ground.

"I couldn't even begin to describe to you the horror that I have seen," one man said. "Leaving Ajdabiya, we saw dead bodies in the street. No one would ever dare go to recover them."

Refugees flee Libya hotspots
  • Ajdabiya
  • Benghazi
  • Moammar Gadhafi

He fled his hometown with his six children this week. One of his sons, maybe about 10, cradles his head as his father talks. He cries quietly.

Other children gather around. When an oil tanker barrels down the road, they freeze and then scatter in fear.

The people here have nothing: no change of clothes, not even water. They sleep on thin sheets of plastic and think they will keep themselves warm at night with firewood in a tin box that is only 1 foot in diameter.

They keep hoping that when the next morning comes, they will be able to trek back through the barren land to their homes. But every morning brings more of the same.

Two trucks arrive from Benghazi to the north. They bring rice, sugar, powdered milk for babies. The people say the aid materialized from the goodwill of their compatriots in Benghazi. Relief, however little.

As the Libyan war goes on, humanitarian agencies report increasing numbers of Libyans displaced from their homes. The International Medical Corps estimates that 20,000 people have taken refuge in a small town east of Ajdabiya. The Libyan Red Crescent says another 5,000 are displaced in the coastal town of Derna.

The United Nations refugee agency says it has sent two medical convoys to Benghazi and also shipments of blankets, sleeping mats and other basic items. But delivering aid is an issue. The agency does not have access to places other than Benghazi, the nation's second-largest city that is in the hands of the opposition.

Reports like these are not uncommon in war. For its victims, life's only focus becomes survival.

One man says Gadhafi's tanks roared down Ajdabiya's streets, firing into houses. What choice did they have but to flee?

He says the troops were searching house to house. They took away five young men from his neighbor's place. He doesn't know what happened to them or whether he will ever see them again.

CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.