Crowds pour in as Obama prepares to step into history

January 20th, 2009 - 9:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS) As Barack Obama Tuesday prepared to step into history as the first black president of the United States, thousands of supporters poured into Washington before daylight in standing-room-only trains.As many as two million people are expected to crowd into the area between the Capitol, the White House and the Lincoln Memorial as Obama takes the oath of office at noon on the West Front of the US Capitol.

Some will be more than a mile from the site of the swearing-in ceremony, watching it on giant TV screens erected along the National Mall.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, started their Inauguration Day ceremonies, departing the presidential guest residence, Blair House, at 8.48 a.m. to go to the historic St. John’s Church across the White House for a prayer service.

Known as the ‘Presidents Church’, the nation’s leaders from Abraham Lincoln to George W. Bush have prayed there with Pew 54 reserved as the President’s Pew.

Washington awoke Tuesday crowded and excited with the inauguration of a new president. Thousands arrived before daylight in crowded trains, carrying blankets and wearing Obama scarves to ward off the wind chills below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Suburban Washington train stations were jammed. A four-story parking deck at the Springfield, Virginia, was filled at 5 a.m. But trains rolling into the stop about 15 miles south of the Capitol had no room for the hundreds on the platform, CNN said.

As one walked through the Mall on the eve of the inauguration, there was a buzz of anticipation. Visitors wandered around the Mall snapping pictures and shooting video of the Capitol and the monuments.

The scene around Lafayette Square was almost chaotic, with cars turning around in the street as they were confronted with newly erected barriers to closed-off areas and clots of pedestrians crossing streets against the light, snarling traffic in other areas.

“The energy on the streets is something I’ve never seen before,” Nancy Wigal, a 45-year-old technical writer who lives in the Mount Vernon Square area was quoted as saying by CNN.

“People are walking lighter, standing taller and are reaching out to one another. It feels like hope. It feels like shared happiness.”

The morning began at 4 a.m. for many as those without tickets made a land grab on the Mall, rushing to stake out positions for the ceremony.

Organisers have said about 280,000 people can fit into the secure zones around the Capitol and roughly 300,000 into the area around the parade. A mere 28,000 seats are available on Capitol grounds.

Subway trains started running on rush-hour schedules starting at 4 a.m. and extra buses were pressed into service. The area’s rail system, Metro, expects more than 1 million riders.

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