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On the front lines with CNN in Tripoli

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Rebels celebrate in Tripoli, Libya, as Moammar Gadhafi's compound falls to their troops on Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Matthew Chance reports hearing gunfire inside the Rixos Hotel
  • The hotel is still held by Gadhafi forces
  • CNN's Sara Sidner enters Gadhafi's Tripoli compound shortly after it fell to the rebels
  • One rebel says he believes Gadhafi loyalists have fled "underground"

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- How does the death of a 42-year dictatorship sound?

In a word -- loud.

CNN correspondent Sara Sidner experienced it firsthand Tuesday afternoon, entering Moammar Gadhafi's compound in the heart of Tripoli only moments after the stronghold fell to rebel troops.

"I hear gunfire," Sidner told television anchors thousands of miles away. "I see a lot of smoke coming from one of the buildings, (and) people running out of the building with lots of ammunition. I see tanks. I see ... vehicles belonging to the rebels, some of the vehicles belonging to the Gadhafi regime.

"This is a major victory for the rebels today," Sidner said, sheltering herself from gunfire ringing out seemingly from all directions. The regime "has been weakened beyond repair."

As Sidner spoke, throngs of young men -- some of them dressed in little more than rags -- walked by on a street littered with trash, casually firing rifles into the air, waving their country's flag. Cars and jeeps, apparently seized from Gadhafi's arsenal, rolled past a pockmarked green and white wall.

Anti-aircraft guns boomed in the background.

Sidner and her cameraman were forced to repeatedly back away from the street and take cover behind barricades to avoid getting hurt by seemingly endless rounds of celebratory gunfire.

Closer look at Gadhafi's compound
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Gadhafi loyalists apparently fled the compound shortly before it fell, one of the rebels told her. "They ran away, all of them," said one bearded man, who was clad in a black-and-white striped shirt and a black bandana. "They have gone underground."

The man said he saw tea left boiling in a pot over a fire -- a clear sign of a hasty departure.

"Allahu Akbar," the man said, praising God in Arabic.

An hour earlier, Sidner described seeing men with shrapnel wounds. "We're getting familiar with what these wounds look like," she said.

"Anyone in the chaos of where she is now is in a kill zone," said retired Army Gen. James "Spider" Marks, a CNN contributor.

Sidner described seeing a 7-year-old boy carrying "a gun that's bigger than he is."

"He says he's in charge of the house, because his father is fighting," Sidner said.

Nearby, CNN correspondent Matthew Chance reported from the Rixos Hotel, still held by Gadhafi's forces. A number of Western journalists were forced to remain at the Rixos -- cutting them off from the rest of the city.

There is "gunfire inside the hotel," Chance said via Twitter. The building is "still under Gadhafi control even as celebrations spread nearby."

Chance said the journalists have hung banners with TV written on them.

"We've got white flags. We have all put ourselves in one room without any windows to try and find a safe place," he said.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.

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