Pockets of Problems Mar Smooth Inauguration
Thousands of inauguration ticketholders turned away, some stuck underground.
Jan. 21, 2009— -- Nearly 2 million people stood on the National Mall yesterday to watch President Barack Obama's inauguration, but thousands of others who had tickets to attend the ceremony were turned away, told to wait, or left to languish in a tunnel as history went on without them.
An unprecedented number of people turned out to witness Obama become the first African American to take the oath of office, creating a security, traffic and logistical tangle for Washington, D.C.
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty estimated the crowd at 1.8 million people, breaking the previous record of 1.2 million at Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965.
Given the large crowds at yesterday's events, things on the whole went safely and smoothly. According to the Secret Service, not a single person was arrested on the mall.
However, several hundred to several thousand people, carrying purple tickets that would have given them standing-room access outside the Capitol building, waited for hours in a cramped tunnel with no access to latrines or emergency services.
While most of the 1.8 million people simply showed up at the mall, 240,000 others received tickets and were assigned to color-coded sections to watch the events relatively close up. Before they could enter those sections they had to first pass narrow gates and walk through metal detectors.
Ticket-holders for the blue, purple and silver sections faced long lines with little crowd control procedures and many of them were ultimately turned away, according to people on the scene.
Several hundred to several thousand people holding purple tickets waited in line for hours in a cramped tunnel at 3rd Street.
Gates for ticket holders were to officially open at 9 a.m. ET, but Andre Chevalier, 25, who was to stand in the purple section, got in line at 6:15 a.m. He says he spent the next five hours stuck underground within steps of the Capitol.
"I thought that by getting there at 6:15 it was a matter of getting great seats or OK seats. It didn't seem in the realm of possible scenarios that we would get stuck waiting in a tunnel and never see the inauguration," Chevalier said.
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