Fighting between rebels and Moamer Gaddafi's forces rocked Ajdabiya on Wednesday, residents fleeing the strategic east Libyan oil town said, describing shelling, gunfire and houses ablaze.
A 25-year-old man, who gave his name only as Faraj, said the fighting had prevented him from entering Ajdabiya, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Benghazi, Libya's second city and the rebel stronghold.
"We turned back because of the shelling," he said, referring to the group of people in his car heading back towards Benghazi.
"There was shelling and we saw houses that were burning."
A family in a car told AFP, at a point about 15 kilometres north along the coast outside of Ajdabiya, that they were fleeing the town.
"We left because of the fighting. We were very scared; we cannot stay," said the man, who declined to give his name. His wife and four children looked to be in a state of panic.
An AFP reporter said a pall off smoke hung over the town and the sound of shelling and gunfire was heard intermittently.
Hamed al-Qabaili, also fleeing Ajdabiya, described the situation as "very bad."
"They are firing Grad missiles at the houses," he said.
Fighting was occurring at the city's east and west gates but the Tobruk gate was in the hands of the rebels, Qabaili said.
Muftah al-Sheikh, travelling in a car with Qabaili, said he had witnessed two brothers being shot dead in Ajdabiya the previous day.
"We left the town because we are afraid," he said. "There are very few people left. There is no electricity and no gas."
A group of rebel fighters positioned about nine kilometres from the entrance of Ajdabiya said there were 11 tanks stationed at the town's east gate.
"When we try to advance they shoot at us with heavy weapons -- tanks and 14.5 calibre machine guns. All we have are Kalashnikovs," said one fighter, Jumaa Suleiman.
Another fighter, Ayyad Jaballah, said wounded rebels were lying near the east gate but no one could reach them.
"Every time we try to get close they shoot at us," he said, referring to the loyalist forces.
The two 30-year-old travelling together in a car then raced away towards the rebel checkpoint at Zuwatinah, further up the road towards Benghazi.
Gaddafi forces captured Ajdabiya last week on their drive eastward against the month-old uprising and launched a fierce attack on Benghazi.
But they were halted when French aircraft launched air strikes soon after UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorised all necessary measures to prevent harm to civilians.
They then pulled back to Ajdabiya, where they easily beat off a rebel advance.
A rebel fighter on Monday said Gaddafi was "putting heavy tanks inside Ajdabiya. "It's full of civilians so we can't attack them."