Crowds jam Washington

January 20, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Jan 20 – As the sun prepared to rise on Tuesday, throngs of early-risers crowded Washington to be a part of Barack Obama’s inauguration as America’s first black president.

At 4:15 am (0915 GMT), with the skies still dark and a winter chill in the air, the underground Metro trains filled to capacity as eager riders jumped on in the hopes of scoring a good spot for the parade or inauguration ceremony.

Washington was in the grip of a massive and unprecedented security lockdown for the event, which has drawn millions of visitors to the US capital for a chance to have a front-seat view of history.

Early televised traffic reports showed lines of headlights along the dark roads, an unusual sight even in this commuter-heavy area where many of Washington’s powerbrokers drive in and out of the city from suburban homes.

The Secret Service launched its final security sweep at 3:00 am (0800 GMT) of the National Mall, the vast green space that is home to the Washington Monument and where some die-hards stayed awake throughout the night.

Streets were closed off across the capital with concrete security barriers guarding impassible roadways as police and army guards kept up a vigilant patrol.

Late-night revelers in downtown’s trendy neighborhoods partied into the early morning, after bars and clubs stayed open until 4:00 am and exhausted staff struggled to serve the sudden surge in clientele.

Before dawn, the temperature hovered around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (six degrees below zero Celsius), with inauguration-day highs forecast at only 32 degrees (zero Celsius).

Metro officials warned that the subway system would be crowded, bicycles would be barred and public bathrooms would be closed.

The ticketed areas around the inauguration ceremony open to ticket holders at 8:00 am (1300 GMT), with the inaugural program set to begin at 11:00 (1600 GMT). Obama is to take the oath of office at 12 noon (1700 GMT).


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