Image: Purple ticket holders
Jacquelyn Martin  /  AP
Purple ticket holders waited inside the 3rd Street tunnel hoping to enter the Capitol grounds to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington on Jan. 20.
updated 3/25/2009 8:42:12 PM ET 2009-03-26T00:42:12

Leaders of the Secret Service and Capitol Police apologized Wednesday to thousands of ticket-holders who were shut out of Barack Obama's inauguration. They said, however, the event was largely a success with no injuries or arrests.

In an incident dubbed the "Purple Tunnel of Doom," thousands of people with prized tickets to the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony were left waiting in a tunnel below the National Mall. Others complained of chaotic lines outside security gates that moved too slowly.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse apologized to those with tickets to the purple and blue sections and pledged that such problems would not happen again.

"While we expected and planned for almost 2 million people to descend on the core area of the city, we had no benchmark or historical perspective to forecast the cascading effect this size crowd would have," Morse said.

Largest gathering in Washington
The National Park Service has said about 1.8 million people attended the inauguration, making it the largest gathering ever held in Washington. While anyone could watch the ceremony on large screens set up on the Mall, a limited number of tickets were provided near the Capitol.

The apologies were not enough for some lawmakers.

"These were constituents from each of our districts, who traveled often at great expense and personal sacrifice to witness this historic day," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. "We must review what happened so we don't make the same mistakes in the future."

The hearing came the same week a report released by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies found that "flaws and shortcomings in the planning process" contributed to the problems at the Capitol.

The report was prepared for the committee by law enforcement agencies involved with the inauguration. It blamed the chaos on an overwhelming crush of people, many of whom without tickets to the area, who overwhelmed screening gates.

The report called for creating a special committee for future inaugurations charged with planning pedestrian routes and better signs to direct guests. It also recommended opening the gates to the ceremony earlier.

Poor communication made problem worse
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said the report did not address why a crowd of people were directed into the Third Street Tunnel below the Mall and why they were stuck there for hours.

"There's no defending it," Sullivan said. He explained that the tunnel was supposed to be blocked off to pedestrians and reserved for emergency vehicles, but barricades never arrived. He said poor communication between officers made the problem worse.

"It was basically a case of out of sight, out of mind," said David Meyer, who helped create the Facebook site "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom." Meyer said some of the explanations make sense, but that more explanation was needed.

In January, inaugural planners said after the inauguration that ticket holders who never made it to the ceremony would receive copies of the swearing-in invitation and program, photos of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and a color print of the ceremony.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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