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Tampa lawyer watches history unfold in Libya

Sally Woodward woke up Thursday to the sound of gunfire. She had grown used to the sound after four days in Tripoli, where rebels fired guns every night at sundown.

But at 1 p.m., this was unusual.

She looked outside her window on the seventh floor of the Corintha Hotel and saw traffic jams of honking cars with people sitting on the hoods and roofs waving guns and flags. She turned on BBC, hoping for a clue. She found it: Moammar Gadhafi had been captured or killed.

"It's like watching history unfold," Woodward said by phone from the lobby of the hotel five hours later. "It's a very proud and very happy feeling in the streets."

Gadhafi, Libya's dictator for 42 years, was killed after rebel fighters bombarded his hometown of Sirte.

Woodward, a 53-year-old lawyer for the Tampa law firm Shutts and Bowen, has been in Tripoli since Sunday, working for a government contractor client. She slept late Thursday after staying up late Wednesday and early Thursday working on a contract.

As a first-time visitor to Libya, Woodward immediately noted how much fear and focus surrounded Gadhafi's sprawling Tripoli compound, which was bulldozed by rebel forces Sunday. She and others visited the compound Wednesday, which was in a state of collapse and ruin. It was "positive destruction," she said. Many people roamed around the compound, which covers more than 3 square miles, and some even had picnics on the grass.

"People seemed to feel that unless they destroyed it, he might come back," Woodward said. "Today they're thrilled that he can't rise up again."

Woodward said she was fascinated with Libya's rebel movement from the time she arrived. Her hotel was used for news conferences for rebels, as many members of the international press stayed there. She felt safe in Tripoli, she said, because armed guards set up checkpoints throughout the city and everyone seemed mostly concerned for each other's welfare.

Woodward plans to return to the United States next week but is curious to see where the country goes from here.

"These are people living with a 40 percent unemployment rate right now, and it was no greater than 5 to 7 percent prior to the rebellion," she said. "At the time it started, European and other western countries had to pull out because of all the fighting. Now the country will get back to business."

As Woodward spoke on the lobby phone, with the occasional gunshot popping in the background, she felt a return to normalcy would take some time.

"As I'm standing here," she said, "the most disconcerting thing is watching someone walk in with a machine gun and get it checked with a tag at the door."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Tampa lawyer watches history unfold in Libya 10/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:00am]

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