Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Washington prepares for inauguration

AFP , WASHINGTON

A human tidal wave is expected to overwhelm Washington during Barack Obama’s US presidential inauguration next month, swelling the city’s population to as much as four times its normal size, officials said.

Local authorities were frantically searching for a way to house, feed and transport millions of visitors who hope to witness the Jan. 20 inauguration of Obama, soon to be the country’s first black president.

“It’s a huge concern because the population of the city is 1.1 million people. This could triple or quadruple the size of the city immediately,” said Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a business interest group.

“We are excited about the opportunity to welcome so many people, but we are very careful to say that there are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out in order to accommodate this many people,” he said.

More than a month before the event “all of the hotels are sold out ... and every limo within a hundred miles [kilometers] has been rented,” Dinegar said.

The turnout for Obama’s swearing-in as 44th president is expected to shatter the last record inaugural for former US president John F. Kennedy in 1960, which drew 1.2 million attendees.

By contrast, Bush’s inaugurations each drew about 300,000 people, according to Rebecca Pawlowski, a spokeswoman for the group Destination DC, which encourages tourism to the city.

To help accommodate crowds when Obama takes the oath of office becoming the 44th US president, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced earlier this month that the entire length of the National Mall — the green expanse of parkland stretching 4km from the Capitol building housing Congress to the Lincoln Memorial — will be open to the public.

Inauguration frenzy also has sparked a run on hotel rooms, with prices now topping US$400 per night, with some demanding a four-night minimum.

Hotels as far away as Richmond, Virginia, 160km south of the US capital were raising their rates.

The actual oath-taking in Inauguration Day takes just a few minutes, but the day’s agenda is crammed with other activities surrounding the event.

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