Archive for Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More than a million turn out for inauguration, parade

January 20, 2009

— More than 1 million people crammed onto the National Mall and along the inauguration parade route Tuesday to celebrate the swearing-in of the nation’s first black president in what was one of the largest-ever gatherings in the nation’s capital.

The Associated Press estimate is based on crowd photographs and comparisons with past events.

On the National Mall, the crowd stretched nearly two miles — from the Capitol to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The bulk of the crowd was jammed into the area between the west front of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, where people stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s 44th president. The crowd was so tightly packed that some people complained they felt claustrophobic.

Farther away at the Lincoln Memorial, people surrounded the Reflecting Pool, and like many on the Mall they watched the inauguration on large TV screens.

Meanwhile, spectators were lined 10 deep in some places along the 1.5-mile inaugural parade route, which began on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol and ended in front of the White House. Most were dressed in heavy parkas and mittens and many huddled under blankets. Hundreds also gathered on rooftops and balconies.

Garth Baylor, 54, a carpenter from Washington, D.C., said no inaugural celebration could compare to this one.

Crowds were so thick that medical personnel had trouble getting to people quickly around the Mall, District of Columbia fire and EMS department spokesman Alan Etter said. Still, he said everyone who has needed help eventually received treatment.

“Obviously the crush of people downtown is making it very challenging,” Etter said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

For many, getting out of the city proved more difficult than getting in.

At L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, a huge crowd waited to enter the station as National Guard troops stood on top of pedestals trying to direct traffic.

“There’s no one here to tell us where to go,” said 53-year-old Violet Smith, who had traveled from Ghana with her daughter. “They could have done a better job because so many people came.”

For weeks, officials urged people to arrive early for the historic inauguration and throngs of revelers heeded that advice, arriving hours before daybreak.

At the Virginia Railway Express station in Fredericksburg, Va., chants of “Obama! Obama!” rang out when the line started moving at 5 a.m. for the first train into Washington. Some had been there since before 4 a.m.

“It’s so energized, it’s just unexplainable. Everyone is just so happy,” Cindia Velasco of Los Angeles said.

Lines of riders also formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which added extra trains for the rush.

By mid-afternoon, Metro ridership had reached more than 650,000 people, transit officials said. Huge lines formed outside subway stations; many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.

Two downtown rail stations were shut down for nearly an hour starting shortly before 9:30 a.m. after a woman fell on the tracks. She was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. It was not clear how the woman ended up on the tracks, spokeswoman Candace Smith said. Metro urged passengers to stand at least two feet away from the platform edge for their safety.

Police had projected crowds ranging between 1-2 million for the inauguration.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration drew about 500,000 people, and President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration drew about 800,000 people, according to National Park Service estimates.

Crowd counting has long been a controversial issue. The park service says Congress ordered it to stop doing crowd counts in 1997 after the agency was accused of underestimating numbers for the 1995 Million Man March.

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