One night there were more buildings aflame in London than at any time since World War II. Police were unable to cope as across the capital - and in other cities in the UK - gangs of hooded youths took to the streets in copycat riots, torching and looting in the third night of what has been the most widespread disorder in Britain's living memory.
Even in areas far from the hotspots – such as Westminster, close to Parliament – you can feel the tension.
“Police warn of gangs beginning to congregate around South Westminster,” blogger Austen Ivereigh read as he felt a little of the gnawing anticipation which the prospect of violence always brings. His local Sainsbury's supermarket had shuttered up, “due to the incidents reported across London”.
But for residents of Croydon, Clapham, Ealing, Camden, Hackney – the list is very long – they have lived the violence at close hand. Businesses were set alight, shops looted, people burned out of their flats. Many were arrested.
As further reports of general disorder continued to roll in, there was a growing sense of alarm at the realisation that law and order had broken down. The terrifying, sickening scenes they saw on television gave Britons a sense of being invaded, as if they were losing their country.
As the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said: “The scenes of the last few nights in parts of London and elsewhere are shocking. The criminal violence and theft that have been witnessed are to be condemned. They are a callous disregard for the common good of our society and show how easily basic principles of respect and honesty are cast aside.”
One thing is for certain: there may be political causes of this unrest, but the disorder has no political objective. It is primitive, and materialistic. As one wag tweeted just now, “the youth of the Middle East rise up for political freedoms. The youth of London rise up for an HD-ready 43" Plasma TV”.
FULL BLOG: Why London's burning (Austen Ivereigh / America)
Discerning Britain's smoke and fire (Andrew Hamilton / Eureka Street)
Archbishop says he is shocked by riots (Catholic Herald)
Riots and the Antisocial Media (Diary of a Wimpy Catholic)