ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Libyans celebrated long into the night after the nation's leaders officially declared the country liberated yesterday. Mustafa Abdul Jalil made the announcement in the eastern city of Benghazi. He's the leader of the soon to be dissolved Transitional National Council. Jalil told thousands of people at the ceremony that they must unite in the aftermath of the bloody civil war. The crowd often interrupted him with exuberant chants. But as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, beyond the celebrations, destruction from the war is still smoldering.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: This was the day so many here had been waiting for, a dictator dead, a new country born. In towns and cities and villages, there was fireworks and feasting that lasted into the early hours of the morning. The formal announcement of the end of eight months of bitter fighting came in Benghazi - Libya's new leaders wanting the liberation ceremony to take place where the uprising began on February 17th.
In the capital Tripoli, the central square was also packed. Amal Julaz was wearing a colorful headscarf and came with her young niece.
AMAL JULAZ: I feel very proud by our revolution. Forty-two years we don't see freedom.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mohammed Dargut al-Jaydi felt a personal satisfaction.
MOHAMMED DARGUT AL-JAYDI: I was in prison for one year and a half. I'm hoping that the future of Libya, it will be fantastic.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that future is uncertain here. This is a country with no institutions, no political parties and deep divisions in the aftermath of the fighting. The many challenges here were on display yesterday in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte.
It's now a city of buried secrets. A group of fighters use a shovel to dig up a shallow grave. Two bodies wrapped in white sheets stained with blood are slowly uncovered. The men here are looking for their missing. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who are unaccounted for. The revolutionary forces suspect some of those may have been taken to Sirte - Gadhafi's bastion - and killed. Mohammed Marghai is on the search team.
MOHAMMED MARGHAI: A lot of people missing. The rebels, we don't know how many, but we try to find the most people we can find. We know the attack where it were, and after that we make a search in the same position.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But instead of their dead they uncover local residents who were hastily interred in this empty sandy lot in a residential street. Sirte was once a showpiece for Gadhafi, with wide boulevards and plush villas. No longer.
So I'm standing in the number two neighborhood. This is where Gadhafi made his last stand. And it is completely decimated, it looks almost apocalyptic, as does most of the city here. There are still houses smoldering from being burned. Other houses have been looted. But most of the destruction seems to have happened during the fierce battles that took place here over many, many weeks.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A woman sobs as she views the destruction in her house for the first time. It's a huge property with a view of the sea. It was shelled and smashed with bullets in the fighting. Like many buildings here, its charred walls look like they have been eaten by a creeping black rot.
Her husband is waiting outside the building. He can't bear to go in.
AL SHARIF AL ZEYANI: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Al Sharif Al Zeyani says the 15 members of his family have been living in a tent outside of the city. They were hoping to move back to Sirte today, but their home is uninhabitable.
ZEYANI: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: People think Gadhafi blessed this place, he says, but there is not a single factory here, there is no port, no source of income. We all had to leave to earn a living. Zeyani says Sirte was a kind of dollhouse for Gadhafi, an homage to his vanity.
ZEYANI: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now we are really lost, he says, we are really confused. We don't know if the new government will help us, if they even care about us. Looking up at his destroyed home, Zeyani says, we just don't know. No one has told us anything yet.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.