Downtown Washington was fenced off and boarded up Wednesday, with concrete barriers blocking avenues, police at street corners, and armed National Guard soldiers patrolling Capitol Hill as Congress impeached President Donald Trump for a second time.

The city at the heart of US democracy has been a shadow of itself during pandemic shutdowns, but now it is also under heavy guard after the January 6 deadly attack by Trump supporters on the Congress building.

A member of the National Guard on patrol in Washington ahead of the inauguration A member of the National Guard on patrol in Washington ahead of the inauguration Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

National Guard soldiers in body armor and camouflage spent the night inside the Capitol, their black rifles leaning against the polished stone walls of the building's halls.

Some 20,000 National Guard soldiers are expected in Washington for Biden's inauguration, more than the combined number of US troops officially deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fences go up as part of the security operation to protect the inauguration Fences go up as part of the security operation to protect the inauguration Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Lawmakers on Wednesday formally accused Trump of inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol last week in a failed effort to stop Congress from finalizing the president's November loss to Joe Biden.

The House voted 232-197 to impeach the president, with 10 members of Trump's Republican Party joining 222 Democrats.

Boarded-up premises have become common across the US capital Boarded-up premises have become common across the US capital Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

The Capitol building grounds are ringed by a security fence erected after the attack, similar to the one raised around the White House months ago when protests erupted nationwide against police killings of African Americans.

The US capital, known for its historical monuments, museums and crowds of tourists, has had a rough ride over the past 12 months.

On guard outside the Capitol -- scene of a deadly raid by pro-Trump rioters On guard outside the Capitol -- scene of a deadly raid by pro-Trump rioters Photo: AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

Police patrol cars have blocked off key avenues near the White House and Capitol Hill ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration as US president Police patrol cars have blocked off key avenues near the White House and Capitol Hill ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration as US president Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Navigating the once humming downtown on foot, it is difficult to tell which buildings have been shuttered by the pandemic and which simply shut up shop due to the violent protests the city has been seeing.

"This is my first time (in downtown Washington) in a year. There's usually people walking all over the place. This is very, very quiet. I almost think it's like a ghost of itself," said Jaime, a mother from Maryland who did not wish to give her full name.

A security fence was erected around the US Capitiol ground after the violent storming by Trump supporters A security fence was erected around the US Capitiol ground after the violent storming by Trump supporters Photo: AFP / Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Hordes of schoolchildren who normally travel from all over the country to visit museums and see the White House now stay away, as do most foreign tourists.

The hectic jostle of politicians, lobbyists and lawyers on the street has also fallen quiet, while the large metro stations that bring workers in from suburbs are quiet and little-used.

National Guard soldiers rest in the rotunda of the US Capitol ahead of the House vote impeaching President Donald Trump National Guard soldiers rest in the rotunda of the US Capitol ahead of the House vote impeaching President Donald Trump Photo: AFP / SAUL LOEB

The city of more than 700,000 inhabitants is subdued, one week before the inauguration of Biden on the steps of the Capitol.

"The city is basically desolate," said Nadine Seiler, 55, who has been demonstrating every day since the end of October near the White House in favor of anti-racist causes.

"Usually it's very stressful, but here it's like everybody's away on vacation," she added.

Security officials set up concrete road blocks at the intersection of 15th and and the busy K Street NW, just blocks from the White House Security officials set up concrete road blocks at the intersection of 15th and and the busy K Street NW, just blocks from the White House Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

As in many Western cities, many workers have been signing in from home -- especially staff at big institutions headquartered in Washington such as the World Bank and the IMF, as well as the countless government agencies.

Eateries must try to survive by erecting tents and marquees along sidewalks, and tempting customers to sit down next to heaters of varying efficiency battling the winter cold.

"I went to the Christmas market... that's gone, all that's gone. You go into bars, (previously) packed bars -- it's gone," laments Timothy Bartholomew, a resident of Arlington, just over the Potomac River in neighboring Virginia.

According to the specialist site Eater, nearly 70 restaurants have permanently closed in Washington since the start of the pandemic, and many others are boarded up with no certainty they will ever reopen.

Violent protests and unrest have shaken Washington repeatedly in the last year.

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis in May, Washington became one of the hotspots of nationwide anti-racist demonstrations.

City authorities painted huge yellow letters reading "Black Lives Matter" across a wide street outside the White House, and the location became a popular site for rallies.

But over the months, clashes between anti-racism activists and pro-Trump protesters have brought an edge of tension to the city.

Roads and sidewalks have been gradually shut down around the White House, with the security cordon now holding people far back from Trump's residence.

Crowds cheering Biden's inauguration on January 20 will be thin on the ground, as authorities have urged Americans to avoid the city, fearing more violence.

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