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Survivor recounts Santiago's post-quake chaos

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
Eduardo Ravani Jr., left, and his father Eduardo Sr. are shown together before the quake.
Eduardo Ravani Jr., left, and his father Eduardo Sr. are shown together before the quake.
  • More than 700 people killed in the Chile quake, officials say death toll could rise
  • Photographer tells CNN how he saw city blocks go dark like in the movies
  • "The main thing people are concerned about are shortages," says photographer
  • Says lines at his neighborhood gas station were 30 cars deep Monday

(CNN) -- Eduardo Ravani Jr. was photographing a wedding reception early Saturday at Las Terrazas dela Reina on the hills overlooking Santiago, Chile, when the party disc jockey told him: "Hey, I think the building is moving."

What started as a slow shake grew into a relentless rumble, knocking Ravani off his feet as screaming guests streamed outside. When Ravani made it outside, he saw five women had fainted to the ground. The bride and groom huddled in a tight embrace, the bride crying. Beyond, bright flashes leapt like lightning from exploding power transformers in the city below.

"It was like something you see in the movies -- one by one, each of the blocks of the city went dark," said the 36-year-old Santiago man, speaking by phone to CNN. "It felt like the shaking would never stop ... then all you heard were people crying and the sound of car alarms and house alarms."

The temblor lasted less than three minutes, but three days later the events of that day continue to reverberate for Ravani and his family, shaken both by daily aftershocks and widespread looting.

More than 700 people have died from the earthquake, and Chilean officials say the toll could climb. Areas of the country were reporting shortages of food and water, and looters roaming city streets, authorities said.

A precarious climate hung over Santiago immediately after the quake, Ravani said. He recounted the days immediately after the quake.

Video: Videos show moment of quake
Video: Chileans search for survivors
Video: U.S. envoy praises Chilean efforts
Video: Chilean town on its own

A purse snatcher tried to rob Ravani's wife on Sunday near their home and was stopped by passersby. "She's been terrified and is afraid to leave the house," he said.

Ravani saw a mob storm a quake-damaged store as the owner, "a 60-year-old grandmother," shouted and tried to get the looters to stop, he said.

The quake occurred on the last weekend of the summer holiday in the South American nation, when many Chileans were away on vacation.

"There are a lot of people who went to the beach and haven't been able to get back to their homes, so you hear of a lot of empty homes being broken into," Ravani said.

Ravani himself had little cash as automated teller machines failed through the weekend; when a neighborhood ATM began working again on Monday, he had to stand in line an hour to make a withdrawal.

"The main thing people are concerned about are shortages," Ravani said. He stood in line Monday at a grocery where a woman bought 20 pounds of spaghetti. Lines at his neighborhood gas station were 30 cars deep Monday.

"The government says there is no shortage of gas, but you still see people walking away, filling up plastic containers of gas," Ravani said. With the quake happening two weeks before the new president takes power, the credibility of government statements are sometimes called into question, he said.

"You hear the old government say one thing, the incoming president say something else," he said.

Still, Ravani -- a part-time photographer and full-time English instructor at the Wall Street Institute in Santiago -- considers himself lucky. In the moments after the quake, his thoughts turned to the safety of his wife, Dora, and their daughters Ayelet, 10, and Francesca, 8.

Video: Looting reported after quake
  • Chile
  • Santiago (Chile)
  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis

"After a few minutes, everyone collected themselves, and I drove home," he said. The typically 10-minute drive took nearly an hour as he drove through darkened streets, across electrical wires and debris, as the sirens of emergency vehicles filled the air.

When he got to his apartment, people were milling on the street, as car headlights and flashlights provided the only light. He searched for his family, but it was his daughters who first saw him in the strobe of a passing car and screamed, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

"They started crying hysterically," Ravani said. "My wife said they were mute after the earthquake occurred. They had never been through anything like that before."

On Monday, his daughters were supposed to return to school after their summer break. "Obviously, that didn't happen," he said.

"More than anything, I'm concerned about the safety of my family, and my family getting their life back on track."