Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The National Mall swelled into a vast, pulsing scene of expectation Tuesday as excited crowds clogged mass transit lines and security checkpoints to witness the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.
Energized by the historic moment, hundreds of thousands of people turned this city’s orderly grid of streets into a party scene. Ready to endure below-freezing temperatures, they streamed up from subway stations and thronged past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors, bound for Pennsylvania Avenue NW and the National Mall for the inauguration.
A chaotic situation, and at least one injury — a child taken out on a stretcher — was reported at one gate where ticket holders were backed up.
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Washington's subway system was jammed and two downtown stations were disrupted when a woman fell onto the tracks. Her condition was said to be not life threatening.
Some 410,000 people had entered Washington’s Metro transit system by 9 a.m., transit officials said.
Hundreds of thousands of people packed the Mall, which stretches 2 miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac River and along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
The cold registered at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit at 9 a.m.
On the Mall, the sea of people, many waving American flags, crowded onto the grassy plain.
“This is chaos now,” Judy Bailey, 42, of Cincinnati, Ohio, said as police shunted her farther and farther from the swearing-in ceremony. “But it is amazing to be here. This is history in the making.”
As dawn broke, they streamed up from subway stations and past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors.
“This is the culmination of two years of work,” said Akin Salawu, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who helped Obama as a community organizer and Web producer. “We got on board when Obama was the little engine who could. He’s like a child you’ve held onto. Now he’s going out into the world.”
Parking lots full
By 4 a.m., lines of riders formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.
Streets around the Capitol quickly filled with people, and security checkpoints were mobbed.
A flea-market atmosphere prevailed on downtown streets, with white tents set up to sell Obama T-shirts and mugs as well as food, bottled water, snacks, scarves and footwarmers. The scent of grilled coiled sausages and steaming Chinese food greeted those who walked toward the parade route, more than six hours before Obama would pass by.
Ticket holders approaching the inaugural site on Capitol Hill awaited security sweeps in a line estimated at thousands. People were in a festive mood, despite the cold and the economic gloom that that has left millions unemployed and tens of thousands homeless.
Connie Grant of Birmingham, Ala., said she got up at 3:30 a.m. after coming to Washington with a group. Three hours later, she was still on 7th Street waiting for police to clear the way into the Mall.
She said the wait didn’t matter. “I sacrificed and came here,” she said. “To me, this is very historic. I just wanted to be here.”
“I brought my patience,” said Matt Rohrbaugh, 37, who had traveled from Santa Cruz, Calif., with his sons, ages 12 and 15. “Everyone else seems to have brought their patience, as well,” he said.
Christian Alderson of Berryville, Va., said he was in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “That day was sorrowful,” Alderson, 73, said as he stood near the Mall. “This is a dream come true for me.”