- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

Severe weather and a nearby tornado warning proved to be the greatest threat to the Independence Day celebration on the Mall yesterday, sending tens of thousands to the shelter of nearby museums and government buildings for a couple of hours.

Security was tightened after attempted terrorist attacks in Great Britain over the weekend, but nature was the only enemy visible yesterday.

Police made no arrests and experienced no security problems because of the evacuation, which was not mandatory, though most people complied, said U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Lachance.

“Security is going as we have planned,” he said. “The evacuation didn’t affect security. It’s something that’s been built into our plan.”

Police searched bags at 19 gates to the fenced-off Mall and deployed extra security teams on the Mall and at Metro stations. The heavy police presence was clearly visible, as helicopters circled overhead and police patrolled the grounds on horseback, bicycle, motorcycle and foot.

Behind-the-scenes security was just as intense, Sgt. Lachance said.

Many visitors said the terrorist attack in Scotland and foiled plot in London last week didn’t make them think twice about celebrating the Fourth of July at one of the most American of venues.

“I think we just need to live our lives without always being afraid of terrorism,” said Brian Fisher, 25. “The security here seems pretty tight to me. I trust that the police are doing their jobs, and we’re not going to see anything happen out here today.”

He said he didn’t mind the short wait to get in through a security checkpoint because he knew it made the area safer.

Adelaide Stanfield, 49, said she felt safe bringing her family to the Mall.

“It’s important for Americans to celebrate the Fourth of July and not to be afraid to do it,” she said. “If we all stayed home, then terrorists would get what they wanted.”

The lines at security checkpoints were short in the morning, starting at 10, then quickly stacked up to 10- to 15-minute wait times after the parade. About 3 p.m., the wait was minimal. When weather prompted the evacuation request at 5 p.m., the checkpoints were closed, too.

The evacuated crowds had to pass back through the checkpoints to get back onto the Mall once the storms passed.

With overcast skies, the heat wasn’t what it can be in early July, thus minimizing the number of heat-related illnesses. By 5 p.m., 29 persons had been treated on the Mall, and seven were transported to hospitals, D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

Some cases of heat exhaustion or dehydration were reported, but most were injuries, he said. None was serious.

“Most of them were people who stepped off the curb and sprained their ankle or fell down,” he said.

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