|Stunned families return to shattered homes in devastated suburbs
|"Incredible. All this destruction is incredible." Salwa Hammoud, 37, was looking from her balcony in Haret Hreik at a neighborhood that has been almost wiped out by a month-long Israeli onslaught. "I can barely recognize my neighborhood," she said a few hours after the cease-fire went into effect, pointing at flattened buildings where people she knows - or knew - once lived.
Behind her, the kitchen floor was full of shattered glass; doors were dismantled, but a cabinet full of porcelain dishes and teacups was miraculously intact.
On the sink lay rotten portions of cheese that had been left there when Hammoud's family left the apartment two days after Israel started bombarding the southern suburbs.
"We left here in a hurry, but we never expected it was going to last that long," she said upon returning to check on her house for the first time since the conflict started.
In the bedroom, Hammoud's husband Zuhair, 51, was scrupulously inspecting a piece of aluminum. "I don't have this kind of aluminum anywhere in the house. It was probably projected here from a neighboring apartment," said Zuhair, who owns a bakery in the Dahiyeh.
"When I arrived in the area, I couldn't find my way to my apartment. All the small alleys I used to take have been completely wiped out," he said.
For the moment, Zuhair, Salwa and their four children will stay at a relative's house in Basta. "My daughter wants to return as soon as possible," he said. "But there isn't any running water or electricity."
Around Hizbullah's "security zone," hundreds of displaced people were walking on the rubble of dozens of destroyed buildings where burned-out appliances and remains of books, photos, toys and other personal items were buried under the debris. Some were holding bags with the few clothing items and the important documents they managed to retrieve from their homes. The air was still filled with smoke mixed with a heavy smell of explosive.
Covering his mouth with a mask, Haydar Haydar, 35, was cleaning up the mess in front of his partly destroyed store where he sold army pants and boots and other "goods for camping."
"I am recovering whatever items are still intact," said Haydar, dusting off boxes of American-style boots. "It doesn't matter. I will rebuild my store again and again," he said.
Hizbullah banners with morale-boosting messages hung throughout Haret Hreik.
"The US and America have destroyed your houses because they could not stand up to the resistance," one banner said.