Shortly after 5 a.m. in the northwest London suburb of Harlesden, Toni Carlton rolled over in bed, picked up her cell phone and checked its news feed.
And nearly burst into tears.
“It felt like the world was ending right there,” said the 41-year-old childminder. “It sounds dramatic, but I just felt like burying my head in the pillow and screaming.”
She wasn’t alone.
Across the UK, many people were waking up Friday to what they’ve spent the past few months dreading – a leap into the unknown.
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The country voted to end its decades-long membership in the European Union, plunging headlong into political, economic and social uncertainty.
But while anger was erupting in bedrooms and, in London at least, on the streets, there were also scenes of joy.
In a country bitterly divided, the many millions who voted for independence from what they considered an outmoded and overbearing bureaucracy were punching the air in triumph and singing in jubilation.
Or, at the very least, affording themselves a smile.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Darren Grimes, a 22-year-old from the coastal city of Brighton who had campaigned for Britain’s exit – or Brexit – from Europe. “You can’t even begin to imagine how I feel.”
That emotions were running so strongly in the wake of the national 52% to 48% Brexit victory shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Passionate campaigning for the vote on both sides has seen tempers boil over with rivals accusing each other of peddling lies, hatred and distrust in pursuit of political gain.
Cities, towns, households and even families have been divided by claim and counterclaim over how EU membership affects thorny issues such as immigration and healthcare.
And as the results rolled in through the small hours of Friday morning, those divisions were also exposed along geological fault lines as areas such as London and Scotland voted for the Europe that much of the rest of the country wanted to leave behind.
’Sad and frightened’
In the capital, a city built on immigration, the disappointment was palpable. Voices on the streets talked of “craziness,” “shock,” and even “embarrassment” at the outcome.
“I’m terrified for the future,” said Carrie Dunn, 36. “I truly and honestly believe that unity and friendship are the way forward for all of us, and fear this choice will plunge us into isolationism.
“I believe this is probably the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. I’m sad and frightened.”
Despair over the vote turned into angry scenes at one point in the capital as jeering crowds of protesters gathered outside the home of pro-Brexit politician Boris Johnson, swarming his car as he left to deliver a speech about his side’s victory.
Beyond the capital, there were other displays of anguish, particularly in places that may struggle if migrant EU workers are required to leave.
The St. Giles Cafe in the university city of Oxford, where 70% voted in favor of remaining in the EU, was photographed Friday morning with messages from its owners daubed on the window.
“No EU, no cafe,” they read. “Closed in protest of EU vote.”
“My sense is that most folks in Oxford are surprised this morning,” Kathleen Lawton-Trask, an American who says she’s lived in the city for almost five years, wrote on Instagram.
’Whirlwind of emotions’
Expats from EU countries living in the UK spoke of their fears for the future.
“When I heard the news this morning, I was overwhelmed by a whirlwind of emotions,” said Mia Hasenson-Gross, a Finnish woman who has lived in London for more than 12 years.
“I was in disbelief, I thought this can’t be true, there must be a mistake and urged my husband to check again.
“When he confirmed it was true, the next feeling to kick in was confusion – so what does that mean for me? An EU national who has lived here for the last 12.5 years, built a home and raised a family, established myself as a member of my community.”
In the northern city of York, Abbey Urbanski, an English woman married to a Polish citizen, said the result had left her “pretty numb all morning and at a loss as to what the future hold for our little family unit.”
Others described being swept up with negative emotion despite having voted in favor of Brexit.
’Reality sinks in’
Mandy Suthi, a London student, said she wanted to vote again to reverse her earlier decision.
“This morning the reality was actually sinking in,” she told CNN affiliate ITN. “My family, this morning, even though the majority of us voted to leave, we actually regret it today.”
Despite winning more than half of votes, public signs of jubilation for the Brexit camp were largely muted, although the delight was keenly felt by many.
In Darlington, northeast England, where 71% voted to leave the EU, the early morning verdict was greeted politely by anti-Europe campaigners.
“The leave campaigners were smiling and shaking hands in the run up to the announcement,” said Charlotte Bowe, a reporter with the local Northern Echo newspaper who was covering the count. “They were thrilled and very happy.”
’Just another day’
“I spoke to one gentleman who had been campaigning for 20 years, who was very, very pleased. The remain supporters left the area pretty quickly.”
But on the streets of Darlington on Friday it was “just another day,” she said.
Brian Rush, a local leader of the anti-EU UKIP party in the eastern English market town of Boston – where 75.5% voted to leave – also described low-key celebrations.
“I’m a little bit tired, but we’re so overwhelmed at the support,” he said. “There’s certainly lots of smiling faces here now.”
But in one corner of the country, later on Friday, there will at least be singing.
“How am I celebrating?” said Brexit campaigner Grimes. “This evening, we’re going to karaoke.”