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South Ossetia capital on edge

August 11, 2008|From Reuters

TSKHINVALI, GEORGIA — Only the rumble of distant artillery fire punctured the silence Sunday here in the capital of Georgia's rebel South Ossetia region, but residents wondered how long the relative calm would last.

The town remained on edge, its shocked residents venturing out from cellars for the first time after three days of ferocious fighting to find bodies uncollected and streets strewn with rubble and broken glass from wrecked buildings.

Some residents said scores of victims remained buried under masses of concrete and metal.

"It's terrible. We don't know what's going on," one elderly woman told a reporter who entered the city with Russian troops. "I haven't seen anything like this in my whole life."

Thousands of civilians fled during the first hours of the battle, and many apartment blocks appeared deserted.

With much of the local infrastructure in ruins, residents scrambled to find water and food while artillery fire rumbled unabated on the town's outskirts. No one knew who was doing the firing.

Doctors at a local hospital transferred patients into a dimly lit cellar after explosions blew large holes in the upper floors.

They said they had neither medical supplies nor fresh water to treat 200 injured.

"We have nothing to feed them. We give the little bread we have to the elderly. They need it most," Dr. Valentina Kutukhova said.

Moscow said 2,000 civilians had died and thousands were homeless in a "humanitarian catastrophe" in South Ossetia. The figures couldn't be verified.

Georgia offered a cease-fire and on Sunday said it had pulled troops back from the separatist capital. But the city remained gripped by rumors, and locals said Georgian troops were still around.

A reporter saw bodies of six Georgian soldiers in piles of rusting rubble near a burning armored personnel carrier.

"Everything is destroyed, nothing works, even the morgue," said a hospital doctor, her voice shaking. "Shooting is continuing. We have nothing left."

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