TYRE, Lebanon (Reuters) - Aid agencies struggled along bombed-out roads thronged by refugees returning home on Tuesday to reach people who had been wounded or trapped by war in southern Lebanon.
For the first time since a U.N. backed truce on Monday, large convoys carrying humanitarian aid set out from the southern port of Tyre to villages that had been isolated by fighting.
"There's two kinds of people who need help now: those who stayed behind and couldn't leave during the fighting, and those arriving back," said Christopher Stokes, operations director for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Lebanon.
"Among those who stayed behind will be wounded who were trapped. And many returnees' houses have been destroyed so they need food, shelter and other basics to survive."
The U.N.'s World Food Programme said it sent a ship to Tyre from Beirut carrying 21 trucks loaded with food, fuel and other supplies but delays caused by a continued Israeli naval blockade meant it would arrive only on Wednesday.
It also sent 19 trucks to the southeastern town of Hasbaya and expected a large convoy to arrive from Syria and a plane from Jordan later on Tuesday.
Many villagers came home to find bomb craters where their houses once stood, in some cases with the bodies of family members still buried under the rubble.
UNICEF spokesman Simon Ingram said U.N. workers had found a dozen villages "empty with no evident sign of life beyond a shepherd or two". They managed to send a large convoy to Rmeish, a Christian border town that mostly escaped damage but whose 4,000 people had been running out of food, water and fuel.
Aid agencies said they had yet to gauge the full extent of the damage and humanitarian need across southern Lebanon.
"It's going to take a day or two to get a full picture of what roads are intact, how we can bring in supplies on a daily basis to these communities that have been cut off," Ingram said.
"We can assume that their situation has been pretty bad."
At least 1,100 people, mainly civilians, were killed in Lebanon during the war, triggered by a cross-border Hizbollah raid on July 12. At least 157 Israelis died in the conflict.
The UNHCR refugee agency said a huge slice of the estimated 900,000 people displaced by the war were streaming out of shelters around Beirut and northern Lebanon to the south to see what remained of their former lives.
Thousands of cars, trucks, buses and people on foot waited for hours at a few hastily repaired crossings over the Litani river, a tiny waterway that became an insurmountable obstacle when Israel bombed the last major bridge spanning it last week.
Packed with families, top-heavy with sleeping mattresses handed out by aid groups, and festooned with flags and posters celebrating Hizbollah, the procession wound past bomb craters, shattered buildings and scores of missile-struck cars.
"An enormous amount of people are moving. To meet their needs, we have 50,000 tents, 270,000 mattresses and blankets and other supplies in the pipeline," said UNHCR spokeswoman Astrid van Genderen Stort.
The situation in Tyre was calm, after weeks of pounding by Israeli planes and warships that Antoine Hallaj, director of Tyre's Bashur hospital, said killed 200 to 300 in the city.
Although battle-wounded civilians were now being treated in the field, supplies were still hard to come by, he said.
"We've been without electricity since they bombed the power station four days ago. Now I've only got only 400 litres of fuel left to run the generator and I use 30 litres an hour," he said.