Crowds Disperse as Obama Arrives at White House

President Obama walks along his motorcade and greets an enthusiatic crowd. Video by
By David A. Fahrenthold and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; 6:11 PM

After President Obama and his family arrived at the White House late this afternoon, spectators along the inaugural parade route thinned out considerably, beginning the final exodus of a historic crowd that created massive backups in streets and subway stations.

After being outside for nine hours, District resident Monica Waters said it was time to quit. "We are frozen," said the 46-year-old. "We saw Barack pass and [Vice President] Biden pass. It was exciting, but we are so cold. It's time to go."

At 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Obama's limousine had barely passed when the first people began running for the Federal Triangle Metro station. By the time the announcer read Biden's name, the crowd had been cut in half. And when D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) came by a few minutes later there were only stragglers.

"We got what we came for," said Kenneth Armstrong, who drove with family from Birmingham, Ala., and had waited since 4:30 a.m. at the parade security point to get a prime spot. "We were right up front when he [Obama] walked by. What more could you ask for?"

Metro officials said that stations were jammed this evening. Witness reports indicated the crowds may be starting to ease, but the stations could still be chaotic. About 5 p.m. at the Metro Center stop, one police officer noticed that a grade-school child had boarded a train that was about to depart -- without his family.

"Get that child off the train!" she cried, and snatched the child before the train doors closed.

As the throngs departed, officials said the day had been record-breaking -- the crowd was estimated at nearly 2 million, making this the largest public gathering in the capital's history -- and frustrating, but overall relatively untroubled. No arrests were reported. And, though medical personnel responded to hundreds of emergencies, none was believed to involve a life-threatening problem.

About 30 children became separated from their families in the midst of the crowd.

As Obama's speech ended, Capt. Mike Odle, one of six members of the Oregon National Guard who traveled to the District, felt a tug on his camouflage jacket. Standing beside a row of porta-potties near Seventh Street on the Mall, Odle turned to find Nathan, a sixth-grader from Warren, Ohio. Choking back tears, Nathan handed the soldier a note.

"If lost, please return Nathan to RFK stadium," it read. The note included the parking space where Nathan's bus driver had parked the group's charter, and it listed a cell phone number for Nathan's teacher.

Odle and other members of the Oregon Guard carried Nathan to Medical Tent 11 -- a repository for temporarily separated family members during the crush to leave the Mall shortly after Obama spoke. Nathan and all the other children were eventually reunited with guardians.

As of 5 p.m., 873,788 passengers had used the Metro system today, a transit spokesman said. She said the number seemed guaranteed to break the all-time ridership record of 886,681, set yesterday.

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