Walking through Raqqa’s rubble: a moment in time

Raqqa, the onetime capital of the Islamic State’s “caliphate,” was reclaimed in October by Syrian rebel forces backed by punishing American airstrikes. Six months later, the city remains in ruins — a bleak landscape of concrete rubble, twisted reinforced steel and leftover explosives. Some 150,000 of the city's original residents have returned.

Many are in despair over their destroyed homes and lost loved ones, while others are scraping together anything they can find to raise money to rebuild their shattered lives.

In March, we walked through the rubble. We found stories of devastation — and the resolve of a people trying to rebuild. This is what we saw as we traveled across the city. (Satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe)

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To the north of the city: warning signs

The city outskirts are lined with signs warning of Islamic State-planted mines and unexploded ordnance left behind after the battle, which have killed or severely injured hundreds of people.

In eastern Raqqa, near a defunct amusement park: destroyed buildings

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In eastern Raqqa, near a defunct amusement park: destroyed buildings

Entering the city, the destruction is breathtaking: 11,000 buildings were damaged or leveled during the four-month battle, and the United Nations has estimated that 80 percent of Raqqa is uninhabitable.

In central Raqqa, near the Imam al-Nawawi Mosque: a woman forages

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In central Raqqa, near the Imam al-Nawawi Mosque: a woman forages

Those who have returned forage in the wreckage of their destroyed homes, looking for family heirlooms and any valuables they can sell to raise money to live or rebuild.

In a residential area in eastern Raqqa, near the city's stadium: a man tries to start over

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In a residential area in eastern Raqqa, near the city's stadium: a man tries to start over

For others with enough money, the backbreaking work of rebuilding has begun. This man, an attorney, mixes cement as he and his family work to repair major damage to their house.

In an industrial area in Raqqa’s far east: signs of reconstruction

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In an industrial area in Raqqa’s far east: signs of reconstruction

The city's economy is responding to the widespread devastation. Some merchants have taken to recovering bent reinforced steel bars from the rubble and straightening them out for reuse by people eager to reconstruct their businesses and homes.

In a main shopping area in the northern part of the city: recovered bodies

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In a main shopping area in the northern part of the city: recovered bodies

But before any rebuilding can begin, many families are waiting for human remains to be removed by the local civil defense team. There are still hundreds of bodies buried under the rubble.

In a farming area on the city’s eastern edge: burials

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In a farming area on the city’s eastern edge: burials

The bodies that can't be identified by relatives are taken to Raqqa's outskirts and buried in mass graves by civil defense workers, who perform a prayer for the dead — a small gesture of dignity and remembrance for the anonymous victims.

The U.N. said Raqqa has suffered the most devastation of any Syrian city during the country's seven-year civil war. Local officials worry the slow recovery and lack of international support could give space for another insurgency to grow.