Subway riders had to endure the traditional post-fireworks crush last night, but the massive crowds appeared to move through the system in an orderly, if dogged, fashion.

At the Smithsonian station, the busiest stop during the busiest two-hour period of the year for Metro, the mob of people was so thick that all traffic at 12th and Independence was blocked for several minutes as people streamed into the subway.

A number of subway riders took precautions against getting caught in such a scene and started leaving after watching only about 10 minutes of the fireworks show.

Metro authorities said the stations serving the Mall had generally cleared by 11:35 p.m., and only minor incidents had been reported.

After its experience on the Fourth of July in 1985, in which riders experienced hours of delay and confusion, Metro has maintained a good record of efficiently moving crowds off the Mall.

"We start planning for July 4 on July 5 of the previous year," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverburg. More than 400,000 people had used the Metro system yesterday by 11 p.m., she said.

Most subway riders seemed to feel the fireworks were worth the trouble of the wait afterward. "It was really awesome, and waiting in line is good because I'm able to meet a lot of young ladies," said a philosophical Chad Dubin, 21, a student at Pennsylvania State University.

Others, however, had more problems and vowed never to return. "We got down all the way to the platform and it was so hot we fought our way back out again. I can tell you right now I won't come again," said an Alexandria woman.

Staff writers Joseph Kirby, Valerie Chow Bush, Sharon Epperson and Jon Meacham contributed to this report.