A New York street was left strewn with shoes, clothing and torn sleeping bags after a stampede by thousands of wannabe models waiting to audition for a reality television show.
Six people were injured and three arrested as chaos erupted in the queue for America's Next Top Model, a search-for-a-star show hosted by the former supermodel Tyra Banks. More than 10,000 people descended on midtown Manhattan on Saturday for auditions for the new series, which this time will try to break the fashion industry mould by looking only for women below 5ft 7in tall. Many at the front of the queue had been camping out for more than 24 hours but, as more and more entrants arrived, tempers rose and organisers found themselves unable to cope with the deluge.
As an overheated car rolled past the queue, raising fears of an explosion, pandemonium broke out. Some witnesses said an applicant shouted "there's a bomb". People were knocked down or fainted as the crowd surged, police ploughed in and fights erupted.
Jennifer Brown, a 27, a Brooklyn resident, told the New York Daily News: "The girls were running like it was 9/11 part two. I feared for my life."
Kiara McCarthy, 19, said: "All of a sudden, we heard this roar from behind us and there was a wave of people falling on top of us."
Other women described being trampled or crushed against buildings as would-be contestants around them fainted or cried that they could not breathe. Two of the six people injured were taken to hospital.
Two women and a man were charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. The rest of the auditions were cancelled and devastated women were turned away unseen. "I'm 5ft 3in," Ms McCarthy added. "There is no way I can make it into a model agency. They would turn me away at the door. We had an opportunity and it was taken from us."
Banks has said she created America's Next Top Model, now auditioning for its 13th season, to counter stereotypes about beauty. After her career as a model, becoming the first African-American woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and GQ magazine, Banks moved into television. She also has a talk show, and has been touted as a new Oprah Winfrey for her growing power in the media industry.
Just a dozen or so hopefuls appear in the finals of America's Top Model. Try-outs are being held in various cities, but the New York auditions have always proved the most popular.
Even before the doors opened on Saturday, police were forced to erect extra barricades and were patrolling the fractious queue. Organisers banned women from leaving the line, even to use the toilet, and two contestants' boyfriends taunted each other, adding to the tension. The crowd was swept by rumours that one of the men had left to fetch a gun, even before the smoking BMW caused pandemonium. No weapons were involved in the melee.