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O'Brien: Concepcion, city of chaos

By Soledad O'Brien and Rose Arce, CNN
Chileans line up Tuesday at the airport in Concepcion, Chile. The city is a scene of chaos and frustration.
Chileans line up Tuesday at the airport in Concepcion, Chile. The city is a scene of chaos and frustration.
  • Concepcion is a landscape of looting, lack of supplies, smoldering frustrations
  • Piles of newly fallen bricks and glass block the streets as aftershocks continue
  • Residents and visitors alike grab any chance to flee city that seems to be falling apart

Concepcion, Chile (CNN) -- You couldn't see the sun rise in Concepcion because the cloud cover was so thick. You couldn't hear a sound because a curfew had silenced the streets. The only activity was the occasional rumble of the Earth. And, after each rumble, a little more brick and roof gave way in this shattered little city.

Concepcion feels like it's falling to pieces. It's not just pieces of homes vulnerable to the earthquakes -- most have stood up well. It's falling apart from the aftereffects that have plagued this city since that awful morning: the looting, the lack of fuel, food and water and a burning frustration that not enough is being done for people with high expectations of their government.

A fire at a clothing store seems on the verge of reigniting. Piles of newly fallen bricks and glass block streets, products of a night of persistent shaking. The military seems to have invaded, firing into the air to deter looting and rolling large military equipment through empty communities.

Full coverage of the Chilean earthquake

All this carries on while a rescue operation seems to be wrapping up.

Manuel Mendoza, a firefighter, told a crowd gathered around a collapsed 15-story building that the searchers didn't have the right type of equipment to pick through the rubble.

Video: Concepcion's curfew extended
Video: Military in Chile's streets
Video: Survivors frustrated in Chile
  • Chile
  • Concepcion
  • Earthquakes

It wasn't long before an aftershock drove his men from even their limited search. They haven't heard sounds of life since early Monday morning. A police unit has shown up to sift through personal belongings recovered inside and marked them according to floor. They wanted something to give to relatives, even if just an unusable laptop.

O'Brien: Looters are leaving the biggest aftershocks

A woman showed up to marvel at how she and her husband and two kids emerged alive from the 12th floor. It's so low now that her daughter's bedroom window is a foot from the ground. We could poke our heads in and see it was crushed, yet here she was with a soft neck brace.

She was ready to leave, and so seemed much of Concepcion. The curfew ran from 6 p.m. to noon, stalling people eager to go out in search of water or fuel. So when it lifted, the town seemed to erupt with activity.

After more than three days of looting and aftershocks, people headed to the airport by the hundreds.

iReport: Are you there? | In Spanish

Among those were vacationers who had been enjoying the last week of summer vacation on the coast. As they boarded a Chilean military flight out of Concepcion, some of the women kissed the soldiers assisting them. Gen. Leopoldo Moya told us the military had taken over the commercial airport and was taking out anyone who wanted to escape the chaos in Concepcion.

The passengers clapped as they took off on a big gray air force plane headed for the capital, Santiago, which has troubles of its own. But there was relief.

Camilo Barrios, a Mexican on vacation, had not spoken to his family since the earthquake. He knew they'd be worried and asked me to e-mail them.

His face softened into a gigantic smile when they responded "Gracias a Dios."

He was out. He was OK. He was on his way home.

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