‘Disneyland Size’ crowds swamp California ‘super bloom’ fields

Posted at 8:16 AM, Mar 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-18 08:16:02-04

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.  - Recent record-breaking rainfall brought a "super bloom" that covered Lake Elsinore's fields with bright-colored poppies, attracting crowds that congested traffic and strained the city's resources, officials said, calling it a "public safety crisis."

About 50,000 people visited the poppy fields over the weekend, which was twice as many visitors as the weekend before, according to Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos.

"Our small city cannot sustain crowds of this magnitude—our city is not made for Disneyland size crowds," a post on the city's Instagram page said.

Officials said they brought in all available staff and also reached out to neighboring city and county agencies for help managing the crowds. Caltrans and California Highway Patrol were helping with traffic control.

"The city has expended all available resources to address the super bloom," the post said.

In the chaos, one city employee was hit and run by a vehicle and a visitor suffered a rattlesnake bite, Mayor Manos said.

The employee's condition was unknown.

Visitors were seen lining up to take shuttle buses up to the mountains since 5:30 a.m. Sunday, the mayor said.

More buses were added to accommodate the crowds, but lines to board them were getting longer as they were getting caught in traffic, according to officials.

At around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the wait time to board a shuttle bus was one hour and a half, according to the city's tweet.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on the 15 Freeway south of Corona leading to Lake Elsinore, according to Caltrans.

"The freeway is not moving and Central [Avenue] is a mess," city officials said in a tweet.

Authorities suggested taking Grand Avenue if heading to or coming from the south, and taking Ortega Highway to and from Orange County.

The congested roadways disrupted residents' regular travel routes and the mayor said frustrated residents were screaming at people directing traffic.

Authorities asked residents to stay out of the area if possible and urged visitors to consider visiting the fields another day.

"While the community has expressed many concerns, please understand that many things are beyond our control and we are doing what we can," city officials said.