Rebels and residents of Misrata said bodies lay scattered in the streets of the city and medics struggled to cope with the wounded on Monday after some of the bloodiest fighting of a two-month-old siege.
People emerged from homes after daybreak to scenes of devastation after Moammar Gadhafi's forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.
Medics said more than 20 people were killed in clashes on Sunday and 28 on Saturday. A rebel spokesman put the death toll even higher, while another spokesman said fighting continued late on Monday.
Three corpses were charred beyond recognition from the overnight shelling. A 10-year-old boy was killed as he slept. But many shells fell on waste ground, residents said. They said the bombardment stopped when NATO planes flew over.
"Bodies of Gadhafi's troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can't tell how many. Some have been there for days," said Mohammed Ibrahim, a resident whose cousin was killed at the weekend.
Footage posted on the internet taken by rebels showed at least five abandoned tanks, large-scale destruction and the bodies of three Gadhafi soldiers lying in the streets.
Col. Gadhafi's forces said they were pulling back from Misrata late last week to hand over to local tribal forces, saying that NATO strikes had taken a toll on them.
Within hours, Misrata suffered some of the fiercest fighting of a siege in which hundreds of civilians have been killed and which has made the city a symbol of resistance to Col. Gadhafi.
Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Col. Gadhafi's forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to the port.
"Battles continue there. We can hear explosions," he said by phone, adding Col. Gadhafi's forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled it from there.
Residents said loyalist forces had been pushed from Tripoli Street to the outskirts of the city, from where they were shelling occasionally when NATO planes were not around.
Asked whether rebel celebrations of victory on Saturday had been premature, Abdelsalam said: "We knew from the start that they only withdrew from the city to prepare for a new attack."
Misrata is the only major western city in rebel hands and if troops were pushed back it would be a significant setback.
At Misrata's main hospital, doctors struggled to treat scores of wounded.
A rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.
"It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition," he told Reuters by phone.
"The quantity of food available in the city is also decreasing. The state of the city is deteriorating because it has been under siege for about two months."
Follow us on Twitter: