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Cleaning up the mess: you're invited

Even as rioters were still roaming the streets of downtown Vancouver last night, Facebookers were organizing a spontaneous post-riot clean-up for Thursday morning.

The mess is ugly, as was its making.

Right after the Bruins won, it seemed the streets filled almost instantaneously, from shuffling cliques to dense hoards. And once the strings of thick black smoke began to swell upwards from the Georgia St./Hamilton St. area, the crowds drew closer together in the downtown core. A young man climbed up a streetlight and stepped out onto the awning of the Hudson's Bay Company, dancing across the ledge to wild applause, while plastic bottles and cans flew through the air.

By 9 p.m., something in the city burst. The marching crowds erupted into screams and chants, few about hockey. At Nelson St. and Howe St., port-a-potties tumbled, a car was flipped. As a young man attempted to stuff flaming napkins into the overturned vehicle's gas tank, police officers in riot gear gathered into formation across the street, some pulling on gas masks.

One officer yelled: "Leave the area now, you will be tear gassed." Minutes later, rushes of men and women fled the intersection, choking and covering their eyes as the eye-stinging clouds followed them through back alleys and into new scenes of destruction.

The explosions of sounds seemed endless: mail and newspaper boxes being knocked over, storefronts shattered. Shrubs were ripped out of meridian planters. Everything at hand -- garbage, street signs, wine bottles -- was hucked at police. And though it seemed like Granville St. was endlessly gas-filled and glass-covered, it took hours for the crowds to leave the core.

Still, in the midst of careless destruction, moments of grace.

Employees of an off-Granville shwarma joint dutifully swept up the broken glass of their shop windows, as the riots raged around them.

Teenagers shared phones, helping others locate lost friends.

Reportedly, a dance party outside the art gallery formed.

Those who want to help put the city back together Thursday can find out about Vancouver Clean on Facebook and on Twitter @VancouverClean.

Robyn Smith writes for The Tyee and others.

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