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Cheers from a distance as crowd watches Obama

Barack Obama wasn't anywhere near much of the crowd massed in Washington, D.C., for his inauguration as the first black president in U.S. history. But it didn't matter.

All organizers had to do was flash his image on screens set up in the National Mall or other areas. "Every time they flashed his face, people would scream," said Genette Gaffney, a senior at Harborfields High School who attended the historic event.

On the way back to her hotel, she said she was still "numb" - trying to comprehend how a fellow African-American had just assumed the most powerful post on the planet.

It was that kind of day in the nation's capital. Crowds estimated at more than 1 million jammed the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, erupting in jubilation throughout the day.

"People were crying, cheering and giving each other high fives," said Damien Harvey of New Orleans, who was struck by the display of unity on the Mall. "There's so much work to do. But it's going to be all of us doing it together."

It wasn't all kumbaya, though. When President George W. Bush and wheelchair-bound Vice President Dick Cheney emerged from the Capitol onto the inaugural platform, they were met with jeers, boos and a rendition of "Na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye."

But mostly it was a day of delirious celebration, even amid frigid temperatures that remained below freezing.

A flea-market atmosphere prevailed on downtown streets, with white tents set up to sell Obama T-shirts and mugs as well as food, bottled water, snacks, scarves and footwarmers. The scent of grilled sausages and steaming Chinese food greeted those who walked toward the parade route, more than six hours before Obama would pass by.

After waves of people moved through security screenings, they scrambled for prime viewing spots along Pennsylvania Avenue - sitting on the curb, staking out plots of grass or clambering on cold metal benches.

Shelton Iddeen, 57, of Greensboro, N.C., arrived at the Mall at 4 a.m. and huddled in front of an ambulance to warm up. "My hands feel really bad; you can't feel your toes," he said.

Outside of the capital, lines of riders were already formed by 4 a.m. in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.

Even those who made it into the capital and had tickets did not always have an easy time getting near the inauguration. Morton Klevan, 70, a Chevy Chase, Md. resident who volunteered in desegregation efforts in Mississippi in 1964, had tickets for the standing area in the Mall. But he said the huge crowds prevented him and his family from getting there on time. So they watched in L'Enfant Plaza.

"It was fantastic," the Brooklyn native and former Justice Department lawyer said, like being in the midst of an African-American church. He described feeling "chills . . . Tears in my eyes, chills running up and down my spine. It was a fantastic experience."

Boxing promoter Don King managed to snag a ticket for seating below the speaker's platform. His trademark hairdo in prime cotton-candy form and his torso decked out in a sequin-studded blue jean jacket, King pumped hands with the Tuskegee Airmen. Then, minutes before Obama's swearing-in, he screamed at the top of his lungs, "Only in America!"

This story was reported by Pervaiz Shallwani and staff writers Olivia Winslow, Tom Brune and Martin Evans. It was supplemented with an Associated Press report.

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