GROZNY, Russia (AP) _ For six nightmarish weeks she huddled in her basement with the corpses of an elderly couple who died after taking shelter with her. She was too afraid to come out.

This week, 61-year-old Valya Udobakhiyeva finally emerged, blinking, her hands and feet covered with grime and sores.

``What's the date today?'' she asked as she was lifted into a truck bound for a Russian army hospital Monday. ``Is the shooting over for good?''

``Nobody knows, granny dear,'' said rescue worker Grisha Chukov, a member of the 40-man rescue unit in Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry. The rescue workers have begun trying to pick up the pieces in Russian-controlled north Grozny after weeks of bombing, artillery attacks and gun battles.

Chukov evacuates the sick and wounded, delivers water and medical kits, picks up mail and performs countless other functions in a city that has ceased to function at all.

``Look at it, it's Stalingrad,'' he said as the truck lurched past block after block of ruins, down cratered streets lined with bricks and rotting bodies.

Gunfire sounded from southern parts of the city, where Chechen separatists continue to battle the Russian troops sent in to snuff out the southern republic's three-year bid for independence from Moscow. Despite a limited cease-fire signed Monday, nobody in Grozny expects peace anytime soon.

Russian troops blanket central and northern Grozny, but are jumpy.

The troops roar around the dusty streets in tanks and armored personnel carriers, and patrol quiet lanes of broken-down houses on foot. They visibly outnumber civilians, who usually are elderly people dragging food, water or building materials in wheelbarrows and handcarts.

Many civilians accuse the troops of attacking and stealing from them.

``There they go, the marauders,'' said a Chechen woman who asked not to be identified, as an armored vehicle raced past piled high with mattresses and furniture. She said the troops were always drunk and shoot out the locks on apartment doors so they can come in and loot.

Other troops, however, seemed to have won the trust and gratitude of civilians. Some were fixing power lines, others sawing wood.

The troops, for their part, say Chechen fighters have mined Russian corpses. They say the fighters are hiding in the sewer system, popping up just long enough to shoot at them.

For Chukov and his partner, Yuri Maslov, both Muscovites, the task of reaching and helping all the victims sometimes seems hopeless. They say the scale of destruction _ the sheer amount of firepower used in Grozny _ dwarfs the other war and disaster zones they have been in.

Chukov, who makes just $100 a month, compares the devastation to the 1987 Armenian earthquake.

``But this I can't understand _ when a nation wages war against itself,'' said the burly former soldier, who blamed politicians and fighters on both sides. ``How do you even begin helping all the people here?''

They drive by ground zero: the blackened hulk of Chechnya's presidential palace. The square in front of it is a black sludge of metal, cement, dirt and at least one fly-covered, dismembered body. For as far as the eye can see, jagged ruins rise into the sky.

Packs of dogs roam the streets, feeding on corpses. Even on the city's outskirts, it is hard to find a building without gaping black holes where apartments used to be. There is virtually no pavement left.

Some decomposing remains hang on a fence by a cemetery, apparently the victim of a mine. About five yards away sprawls the body of a Russian soldier.

There is no running water in Grozny and no electricity. There are no bread factories working.

``People live here'' is scrawled in chalk on many doors _ an attempt to spare homes from further destruction.

``Chechen fighters shot from inside houses, so our side had to respond by hitting the houses,'' said Valera, a 22-year-old soldier on foot patrol, pointing to one of countless rows of roofless houses.

Although some refugees have returned to the city, which once had 400,000 people, most do so just to pick up relatives or belongings and leave again.

Those who live in Grozny now are mainly those with nowhere else to go, or who are afraid to abandon their apartments.

``We didn't care about (Chechen President Dzhokhar) Dudayev,'' said a Chechen woman who identified herself as Nadya. She said President Boris Yeltsin ``could have taken him with special troops in 10 minutes.

``Why such destruction? Why did they do this to innocent people?''