There's a stampede, then shrill screams, cries of "get off me" and "stop it", before the crowd surges and women, men and teenagers are crushed as they desperately lunge at packages from crates.
It sounds like something you might see amid a humanitarian crisis, a war or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
But these were frenzied shoppers in the United States, joining the rush for bargains on the annual "Black Friday" shopping holiday.
Black Friday starts the end-of-year holiday shopping season that often tips retailers out of the red and into the black for the year.
Television images and YouTube clips showed berserk buyers charging through doors as stores opened on the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Some competitive shoppers lost their cool as they tussled over items or staked out their spots in lines.
According to the San Antonio Express website, one man pulled a gun on another who had punched him in the face while the two were waiting in line outside a Sears store late Thursday.
Shopper Lawrence Corpus filmed a fight at a lingerie sale that started between two women and spread to three men at a shopping centre outside Sacramento, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Fox 40 reported that the fight apparently started over a sale at a Victoria's Secret shop.
Jessica Wilbourn, from Victoria's Secret, said customers pushed and shoved each other, climbed on the "panty bar", and threw clothes and boxes.
"I've been in the retail business six years now, and I've never see a Black Friday this bad."
In Woodland Mall, Grand Rapids, Michigan, two teenagers were arrested early on Friday morning, Fox 17 reported.
Police used pepper spray on some out-of-control shoppers in what was described as a "chaotic scene".
The New York Post reported a man was arrested after leaving his girlfriend's two-year-old son in a car while he went shopping for a flat screen TV in Springfield, Massachusetts.
A video uploaded to YouTube captured shoppers fighting over a crate of mobile phones at Walmart in Moultrie, Georgia.
It quickly became an online hit after being posted on news websites around the US, with 1.9 million views on Monday morning.
Perhaps anticipating the chaos, many shoppers preferred to buy online - even ahead of the next nationwide shopping event, Cyber Monday.
Reuters reported Black Friday online sales topped $US1 billion (NZ$1.2 billion) for the first time, according to digital analytics company comScore Inc.
IBM said online sales rose 16.9 per cent year-on-year on Saturday.
Some bricks-and-mortar stores opened at midnight, while others such as retailers Walmart and Target jumped the gun, opening on Thanksgiving night and carving into the family-centred holiday.
But the day's impact on balance sheets is starting to wane, as more stores try to reel-in customers on Thursday, even if it means that their employees have to forego the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
A decade ago, it would have been impossible to find a single store open on Thanksgiving along New York's big shopping arteries such as Broadway.
But on Thursday, as for the past several years, nearly all the stores were open where Broadway traverses the SoHo neighbourhood of lower Manhattan.
Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, said it had its "best ever" Black Friday, with larger crowds than last year.
Meanwhile, disgruntled Walmart workers mounted strikes and protests across the country seeking better pay and benefits.
"There is going to be an impact," employee William Fletcher told MSNBC. "The point isn't so much to hurt Walmart as much as it is to get them to listen to us and appreciate the work we do."
The next in a series of days that stores are counting on to jumpstart the holiday shopping season is Cyber Monday.
Cyber Monday was created in 2005 by a shopping trade group that noticed online sales spiked on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
It's estimated that this year's event will be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row.
According to comScore, Americans are expected to spend $1.5 billion, up 20 per cent from last year on Cyber Monday, as retailers have ramped up their deals to get shoppers to click on their websites.
Amazon.com, which is starting its Cyber Monday deals at midnight on Monday, is offering as much as 60 per cent off a Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TV that's usually priced higher than $1000 ($956). Sears is offering $430 ($411) off a Maytag washer and dryer, each on sale for $399 ($381). And Kmart is offering 75 per cent off all of its diamond earrings and $60 ($57) off a 12-in-1 multigame table, on sale for $89.99 ($86).
- Fairfax Media with AP and Reuters