This eastern Spanish town launched its internationally famous tomato food fight, the "Tomatina," with the participation of about 45,000 young people from all over the world who each faced off against everyone else in the narrow streets with 120 tons of the ripe red vegetables for ammunition.

The runup to the peaceful battle, held each year since 1945 on the last Wednesday of August, began on Tuesday afternoon with a continuous series of parties, dances and concerts that lasted well into the night.

After the evening festivities, the people on hand for the gigantic food fight caught a little shut-eye in their cars, local parks and sleeping bags laid out right on the streets as close as possible to the spot where the trucks loaded with tomatoes would unload their cargo for the Wednesday battle in keeping with the Buñol celebration.

A few hours before the start of the battle, the town had already transformed itself into a melting pot of nationalities with young people strolling around expectantly among the eating and drinking establishments and clothing stores, many of them buying swimming goggles from street vendors to protect their eyes from the flying tomatoes and sauce that would soon fill the air.

The firing of the traditional rocket marked the start of the free-for-all "tomato battle."

Five trucks loaded with ripe tomatoes moved through the town's main streets amid great excitement, nervousness and even a little pushing among the waiting crowd, and when the food fight commenced, tomatoes started flying everywhere and the town almost instantly became soaked in the smashed vegetables.

Everyone - participants, spectators and invited officials leaning out of windows, reporters and photographers - became a legitimate target in the town-wide free fire zone and combatants who grabbed up tomatoes began hurling them at everybody in sight rather randomly and without any preconceived plan soon turning the streets, storefronts and virtually all the people on hand a uniform bright red.

The exercise in collective hysteria was covered by dozens of media outlets, including some from China, where the Tomatina has gained a good bit of fame and even inspired copycat events.

Sixty minutes after the first salvo, another rocket was fired to put an end to the battle, although that was also the signal for local residents and municipal cleaning services to get started washing down the streets and building facades to get rid of the tons of tomato pulp and restore the town's former pristine order.