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Cinco de Mayo Takes the Heat--a Record 101

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southern California celebrated a torrid Cinco de Mayo on Saturday as temperatures rose to 101 degrees in downtown Los Angeles, easily breaking a previous record high of 93 degrees for the day in 1953.

A high-pressure system that hung immobile over much of California throughout the day helped temperatures rise to 104 in Monrovia, 102 in Woodland Hills, Long Beach, Montebello and Riverside, and 101 in Pasadena and San Bernardino.

Coastal freeways and roads turned into blocked arteries, clogged with carloads of sunstruck beach-goers.

Los Angeles County lifeguards said crowds ranged from 100,000 at Long Beach and Hermosa Beach to 90,000 at Zuma. In Orange County, estimates ranged from almost 90,000 visitors in Newport Beach to 5,000 in Laguna Beach.

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In Santa Monica, where an estimated 150,000 shoreline visitors lounged on the sand, even the lifeguards were not immune to traffic woes.

“Our guys have been up to 30 minutes late just trying to find places to park,” said lifeguard Dan Atkins, 34.

Atkins said the peaceful crowds and mild upper 70s temperatures provided for a “perfect beach day"--marred only by a few minor encounters between lifeguards and rowdy visitors over excessive beer drinking.

“So far we haven’t had to arrest anybody,” Atkins said. “Our concern is that they’ll go into the water drunk.”

Campers took to the roads leading north to mountain resorts. At Crystal Lake in the Angeles National Forest, where cars and four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with tents filed in all day long, park naturalist Sharon Seales said the heat had provided “the biggest warm weather draw of the year.”

Those unable to escape to cooler climes were left with only their ingenuity to cope. In the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles, a group of warehousemen loading crates under the noonday sun cut holes in the bottoms of cardboard boxes and wore them as makeshift sun visors.

The most popular venue at the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Lincoln Park, where more than 25,000 people strolled past carnival rides and mariachi bands, turned out to be the air-conditioned recreation center.

“A lot of families are coming in to cool off,” said Tim Baines, the center’s recreation director.

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And, at the Mariachi Festival in downtown Santa Ana, Louise Diaz, wearing a long-sleeved ruffled dress, tried to find relief by eating a Popsicle while she waited to take the stage with the Folklorico La Fonda dance troupe.

In the San Fernando Valley, many residents preferred the beaches to their traditional weekend haunts at shopping malls and parks. “The basketball courts are empty,” said Fernando Lara, recreation assistant at Sepulveda Recreation Center in Sepulveda.

Los Angeles County fire officials declared a “red flag warning"--one stage below the red flag “alerts” issued when fire danger is most extreme.

Brisk ocean breezes brought relief in the early evening, dropping temperatures to the 70s along the coast.

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Weather forecasters said the 100-degree temperatures were not expected to return today. Steve Burback, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., which supplies forecasts to The Times, said the high-pressure system that spanned from San Francisco to Nevada’s Great Basin would move eastward, leaving a few clouds and highs in the upper 80s and low 90s today.

Times staff writers Phillip Gollner in Chatsworth and Dan Weikel in Costa Mesa contributed to this story.


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