Obama's Washington inauguration to cost €30m

 

Washington is bracing itself for an onslaught from this weekend as the city’s population begins to swell in anticipation of next Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s first black president.

Officials said the event, seen by many as America’s chance to regain its reputation in the world and embrace change after the unpopular presidency of George W Bush, would be unprecedented.

Estimates put the cost at $40 million (€30 million) and police chief Cathy Lanier said between one million and two million people were expected to arrive from outside the capital.

The District of Columbia’s delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, told reporters “You can’t judge by past inaugurations. It’s going to break all the records.

“They’re going to come with or without tickets... It’s each man and woman for himself.”

US authorities face a logistic nightmare with gridlocked roads and packed subways as temperatures drop to around 2.5C or lower and have spent months warning of long queues and serious congestion in the run-up to one of the most anticipated inaugurations in history.

City administrator Dan Tangherlini said getting there would not be pleasant.

“I don’t want in any way to discourage anyone,” he said. “I just don’t want them to come and be completely shocked by what they find.”

To accommodate the expected numbers, the Presidential Inaugural Committee will open the entire National Mall to the public — the first time it has done so for an inauguration. Those attending will be able to watch the proceedings on one of 10 giant screens being erected in the park.

The record for the largest ever crowd on the National Mall was set in 1965 for Lyndon B Johnson’s inauguration, with the park service putting the figure at 1.2 million people.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration drew about 500,000 people, and Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration drew about 800,000 people, according to park service estimates.

With officials expecting that record to be broken next week amid tight security, the inauguration has been designated a National Special Security Event, giving the US Secret Service the lead in co-ordinating all law enforcement agencies.

Some 58 law-enforcement and other agencies will work on security for the day, with 10,000 National Guardsmen providing assistance to the city’s police.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said: “I think it will be the most security, as far as I’m aware, that any inauguration has had.”

A large chunk of central Washington is to be cordoned off from as early as Sunday. And all bridges crossing the Potomac River into the capital will be blocked as a precaution. No specific, credible threat has been made, US intelligence officials have said, but fears remain that the high-profile event may be an attractive target for terrorists.

AP