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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

In Libya, civilians are fleeing the city of Sirte. That's the last major town still in the hand of forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

NPR's Corey Flintoff has been speaking with some of those civilians. As he reports, people in Sirte say they've been cut off from the rest of the country. And some don't even realize that a massive political change has occurred.

COREY FLINTOFF: They come here first, a rebel checkpoint and field hospital on the coastal road from Sirte to Misurata. Hot, dusty cars packed with men, women and children, carrying whatever possessions they could cram into the trunk. Some cars have stacks of floppy mattresses strapped to the top, because the refugees don't know where they'll sleep. Volunteers press them with food and bottled water, juice boxes and packaged cake.

Outside the small clinic, a young doctor in blue hospital scrubs says most of his patients are wounded rebel fighters. But the doctor, Mahmoud Adita, says he's seen a lot of civilians from Sirte, as well.

MAHMOUD ADITA: Today, for example, we received four ladies. They are in labor. And we transferred already to the Misurata.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)

FLINTOFF: An aging Russian-made helicopter takes off with the pregnant women. Adita says he's lost patients because he doesn't have enough transport to get them to the Misurata hospital in time. One man, who just brought his family out of Sirte, says that people there are cut off from the outside world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Without electricity, he says, they had no information from outside radio or television, only what he called Gadhafi's black rumors. He says many people did not know that Tripoli fell a month ago.

Others say they did know what was going on, and it gave them hope.

ISMAEL MILAAD: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Ismael Milaad, a 34-year-old gym teacher from Sirte, says he had access to a generator and a satellite dish, so his neighbors gathered at his house to learn what was going on. Milaad said there are many men in Sirte who are preparing to fight the pro-Gadhafi forces as soon as most civilians are out.

He adds, though, that he fears there will be civilian casualties because Gadhafi fighters are keeping some families trapped in the city center and using them as human shields.

The rebels, meanwhile, are playing a waiting game. They have a position set up at an underpass on the outskirts of the city, where they exchange artillery fire with pro-Gadhafi forces. But for now, they say they're not trying to advance.

Back at the field hospital, the rebels aren't just passing out goodies. They're also taking the names of the fleeing families and searching their belongings.

Adam Ali, a rebel in dusty camouflage fatigues, says his men are looking for weapons. He says they've found a few pistols and photos that show some refugees had pro-Gadhafi leanings.

ADAM ALI: Some of them take picture with the soldier of Gadhafi and the machine of Gadhafi.

FLINTOFF: That's because at least some of the escaping families are double refugees - they fled from Misurata to Sirte when Misurata was being relentlessly shelled by pro-Gadhafi forces. Now they're fleeing back, and the rebels view them with suspicion.

The rebels say people carrying weapons or showing signs of being Gadhafi loyalists are not being allowed to return to Misurata. The rebels say the status of those families will have to be sorted out later, when the fight for Sirte is over.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Misurata.

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