Washington handles Inauguration’s record crowds with few big problems

Inauguration Day went off with few major hitches on Tuesday, even with nearly 2 million people swarming the National Mall and the streets of Washington for President Obama’s swearing-in.

A sea of people waving American flags stretched over two miles on the National Mall, from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The largest crowd in D.C.’s history braved the 30-degree January day, huddled shoulder to shoulder for hours.

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Later, thousands watched Obama and his wife Michelle as they twice stepped out of their presidential limousine during a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House.

Thousands of spectators stood and lay on blankets behind hundreds of law enforcement personnel on the parade route. The Obamas first got out of their limousine, nicknamed “the Beast,” near the National Archives, and then exited once more near the Treasury building.

Police reported no arrests or major security-related incidents, and there were no deaths or major injuries.

But many visitors and residents complained they were refused entry into the purple, silver and blue sections despite possessing valid tickets. Those sections offered some of the best views of the Inauguration ceremony, as they were in front of the Capitol’s reflecting pool.

“We had to make sure that we could get people out,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Schneider said in defending the decision to not allow entry to some people.

She said dealing with the large crowds meant “we had to restrict and reroute people who were standing in line who hadn’t actually been screened yet, so that we wouldn’t have folks in that public safety concern situation.”One passenger slipped and fell in the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station at about 9:30 a.m., causing already delayed trains to slow further. The passenger sustained only minor injuries, according to a spokeswoman for Metro.

The cold weather caused discomfort and about 150 calls to D.C. Fire requesting help with people who had fallen or were suffering from the cold. About 50 people had been taken to hospitals by press time.

Long lines greeted those taking Metro to the Mall, but most people were able to get on a train, partly by leaving early.

Tight security was a fact of life throughout the city. Overnight, National Guardsmen rotated in 30-minute shifts on every corner in the city as far north as P Street NW. Some kept their cheer despite the cold weather.

“It’d be mighty hard without hand- and foot-warmers,” said one guardsman, who asked not to be named. “Bush’s Inauguration in 2005 was a lot crazier, with a lot more protests. This one, everyone seems just happy to be here.”

People were already walking through Dupont Circle on their way to the National Mall at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

{mospagebreak}By 7 a.m., 200,000 people had used Metro. Gates on the National Mall opened at 8 a.m. And by 10 a.m., most of the city outside of the streets surrounding the Mall and the Capitol were deserted, reflecting the rush to the Mall. Several people took advantage of the road closures and walked in the middle of the portion of I-395 that runs through Capitol Hill.

The crowds left massive amounts of trash littered on city streets as well as the normally pristine Senate parks.

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City workers planned to begin cleaning the streets around the National Mall and the Inaugural parade around 6 p.m., and then move into the restricted areas when they were finished clearing out.

But with the parade running behind schedule, workers expected to work through the night to get the streets clear.

“Our goal is to have everything ready in time for rush-hour traffic Wednesday morning,” said Nancee Lyons, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works. “But it’s going to be challenging, because the parade is running behind schedule and we’re talking about clearing record numbers of people, so we think we’ll probably be right up until rush hour out there cleaning.”

Tents selling every imaginable piece of Obama memorabilia, from buttons bearing Obama’s likeness to dozens of different T-shirts, lined Massachusetts Avenue down to Union Station.

“America, welcome to Washington, D.C.!” yelled one hawker.

One T-shirt mimicked “The Matrix” and called Obama “The One.” The shirt recalled Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) critical commercial mocking Obama during their presidential contest, although it was obvious that this T-shirt was made by an Obama supporter.

After the closing of the Inaugural ceremonies, the 240,000 people streamed out of the north and south entrances, knocking down four-foot-tall plastic fences that stood in their way.

Further downtown, hundreds of spectators knocked down and trampled over a fence in their way, as National Guard soldiers watched passively.

On Capitol grounds, Capitol Police officers and Secret Service agents cleared pathways for the elderly and disabled, as they fought to make it out of the ticketed area.

Lines of hundreds snaked outside the House office buildings as spectators attempted to get warm and see their member’s office before leaving town. With all cafeterias closed for the day, the vending machines were bare and the cafeteria seating area looked like a ski lodge, as people’s socks lay strewn next to their bags of potato chips on the tables.

While there were few protesters, a group of anti-abortion rights activists gathered in back of the Supreme Court holding a crucifix and signs reading “Stop Abortion Now” as thousands of spectators made their way to the West Front entrances. Obama supports abortion rights.

“We’re killing thousands of innocent babies in America,” said activist Merrie Turner. “And I believe it’s fueling the bloodshed by Islam. We’re going to see a lot more terrorist attacks until we right these wrongs.”

Police held crowds at street level around 3 p.m. at several downtown stations to help “meter” the size of the throng trying to enter. “This standard practice helps ensure safe entry and limits crowd size on platforms,” said a Metro news release.

Smithsonian, Archives, Mt. Vernon Sq, Federal Triangle and Judiciary Square stations were closed at press time, and the Union Station Metro designated one entrance exit-only.