Surviving the Purple Tunnel of Doom

Ticketed paradegoers stranded in tunnel

While most people were enjoying themselves on the National Mall while watching Barack Obama make history, there were others stuck in the Third Street Tunnel making every attempt possible just to get to their seats for the inaugural ceremony.

A lot of them never made it, thanks to a potential security snafu of massive proportions.

At least 1,000 people who had tickets to get into the inaugural event missed out. A lot of those had tickets in the purple or silver sections. Most of those people used mass transportation and arrived early -- i.e., did what they were supposed to do.

But instead of seeing Obama's historic day, they spent most of their time walking or standing in the Third Street Tunnel. Why? That's where police told them to go.

Perhaps 1,000 is an low estimate on the number of people who didn't get in, however, considering the amount of press the debacle has received.

And it wasn't just your ordinary, every-day people. Congressional staffers were shut out, as were those who worked feverishly for the campaign since Day 1 of Obama's campaign.

The result of their efforts: a lot of heartache ... and a Facebook group.

The "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom" group has been formed online, and as of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, more than 600 people had joined. The purpose of the group: "This is a group dedicated to all those with purple, blue or other tickets to the inauguration who braved the early morning cold (and the crowds) only to end up in the proverbial or literal Purple Tunnel of Doom."

A lot have shared their stories, images and videos about their experience. Others are using the group to work together to find answers.

Their plight was documented by our own Julie Carey, who got stuck in the line while trying to get to her designated spot in the silver ticket area. Her first report came in at about 9:30 a.m.:

"Huge crowds of people were turned away from crossing the parade route on Constitution Avenue at Third and C streets at about 9:30 a.m. and were being forced to go through the Third Street Tunnel.

The decision by officials to close the official crossing point early forced people to go around to the other side of the Capitol. There was little or no police presence or direction. So people walked aimlessly through the tunnel and had to find their way on their own when they got to the other end."

Julie reported back later and sent video of the chaos. Her next update came in at 11 a.m.:

"What an odyssey to our Silver standing spot! The crowd movement was often chaotic and confusing for thousands who tried to enter the Silver seats from 3rd and C St. NW. Police refused to let the more than three-block-long clot of ticket holders through. ... The best guidance came not from police but Obama volunteers who jumped atop jersey barriers to direct the human traffic. Once clear of the tunnel, it took another hour to get to Silver security and to our position on the Reflecting Pool. Next stop -- the porta-potty."

While Julie eventually got to her spot, others didn't, like Lisa Alford, who sent us an e-mail describing her situation.

"On this historic day that ushers in a new era of hope, there were many unhappy people who never were admitted to the Inauguration.

My sister and I, as well as thousands of others with purple standing-area tickets, left the US Capitol in disgust. We followed the rules, got up early, took the Metro and then took our place in a pseudo-line and stood for hours, never moving. Apparently with a lack of security, the purple gate was never fully opened and there was nothing short of chaos.

A few panic attacks occurred and there was never any guidance or instruction from any authorities. We pushed through the crowd and finally got to another Metro to escape and get home only to have missed the entire ceremony. We never saw any Jumbotrons anywhere which would have made this disastrous experience somewhat worthwhile. DC and the Federal Govt. don't know how to do anything right and I will never attend another event like this in this town again! Thank God for Obama; maybe he can clear this up."

Update!:  Senate Sergeant At Arms Terry Gainer said he thinks there were a number of problems that led to the chaos.

He said there may have been more tickets issued than they could handle.  He said at one point there was a crush of people at the gate, so it had to be shut down for a while.  He said one of the metal detectors at the gate didn't work, so people had to be screened with a hand wand.  And he said that because of the cold weather, people wore bulkier clothes, making the screenings more difficult.

Gainer said he has offered to arrange a Capitol tour for those who didn't get in to try to make amends.

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