Burning Man: Deaths reported as thousands of festival-goers stranded in Nevada desert after rain


Authorities are investigating the deaths at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert after thousands of people were trapped at the site. Heavy rains flooded the area and created thick, ankle-deep mud that stuck to campers’ shoes and vehicle tires.

Participants were told to stay in the Black Rock Desert and conserve food, water and fuel.

“More than 70,000 people,” were stranded Saturday, Sgt. Nathan Carmichael with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office told CNN Sunday morning. Some left the site by walking out, but “most RVs are stuck in place,” he said.

On Sunday morning, event organizers said roads were closed because it was “very wet and muddy” and that the weather would be uncertain. Organizers said that while some vehicles were able to pass, others were stuck in the mud Event website.

“Please do not drive at this time,” they added. “We will notify you of a driving ban after leaving this weather forecast area.”

A remote area in northwestern Nevada received 2 to 3 months’ worth of rain — up to 0.8 inches — in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning. Heavy rains pounded the parched desert lands, churning up thick, clay-like mud that made walking or biking very difficult, festival officials said.

According to the forecast from the National Weather Service office in Reno, more rain is possible Sunday afternoon. “Severe storms will bring very heavy rain, small hail and wind gusts of 40+ mph,” the weather service noted.

From those conditions around there is a possibility that Burning Man will be in the festival area 12pm to 4pm local time, a CNN analysis showed.

The sheriff’s office said it is investigating “a death that occurred during this rain event.” Authorities have not publicly named the man or provided details about the circumstances of the death.

The district official issues an announcement about stranded Burning Man participants

“The family has been notified and the death remains under investigation,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release late Saturday.

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The man was found on the playa and life-saving procedures to revive him were unsuccessful, Carmichael said Sunday, but did not share additional details.

Playa is used to describe sunken dry lake beds in deserts, where water evaporates rather than drains out, and even small amounts of rain can quickly wet a large area.

Event organizers said On Sunday night, weather permitting, they plan to burn the man on fire at the climax of the festival.

Officials have not provided information on when the roads will reopen, but sunshine is expected to return on Monday.

Burning Man participants walk through the mud on Saturday.

“We currently do not have an estimated time when the roads will be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to travel safely,” Burning Man organizers said in a statement Saturday evening. “Possible if the weather favors us late on Monday. It will be over soon.”

Rain overnight and Sunday on the already saturated playa will “affect the time it takes the playa to dry,” organizers noted.

For now, Black Rock City’s entrance and airport are closed and no traffic is allowed in or out of the city, except for emergency vehicles. Organizers said On social media. Black Rock City is a temporary metropolis set up annually for the festival and comes complete with emergency, security and health infrastructure.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said the rain “made it nearly impossible for motor vehicles to pass the playa,” and people were advised to take shelter until the ground dried out enough to drive safely.

Burning Man organizers said on Saturday that vehicles trying to get out would get stuck in the mud. “Cars stuck on the roads in our camping areas or on the gate road outside the city will prevent egress,” the organizers added.

“If you are at the BRC, please stay in place and be safe,” organizers said.

Storms and heavy rain across Nevada flood Other parts of the state and may have led to another death. In Las Vegas, authorities found a man unresponsive and “entangled in debris” Saturday morning, according to city spokesman Jace Radke. An investigation is ongoing, Radke said in a news release.

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Dawn was muddy at the Burning Man camp, where the exit gates were closed indefinitely as driving was almost impossible.

Some festival-goers walked miles through thick mud to reach main roads, while others stayed in their camps hoping conditions would improve.

Hannah Burhorn, who attended the ceremony for the first time, told CNN that people walk through the mud barefoot or with bags tied to their feet.

“People have tried to bike through it and got stuck because it’s ankle deep,” Burhorn said. The mud is so thick that it “sticks to your shoes and makes it look like a boot around your boot,” he added.

It’s unclear how many people are stranded at the festival, but more than 70,000 people typically attend the week-long event. This year it runs from August 28 to September 4.

Pershing County Emergency Management Director Sean Burke told CNN there were no reports of injuries as of Saturday afternoon.

He told CNN that Amar Singh Dukkal and his friends walked about 2 miles through the mud to leave the festival. He estimated it would take them about 2 hours to get to a main road arranged to take them to Reno, about 120 miles from the event grounds.

Heavy rain covered the ground in thick mud at Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert.

“We made it, but it was pure hell (walking) through the mud,” Duggal said. “Every step felt like we were holding two huge cinder blocks on our feet.”

Attendees at the event included DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock.

Rock posted a video on Instagram of the thick mud and Diplo posted a series of videos in which a fan claimed he and Rock were riding off the floor.

DJ said they walked several miles and managed to get to the nearest airport.

Meanwhile, participants who normally devote their time to art and community building are now focused on dealing with issues of rationing goods and connectivity.

“There’s super limited bandwidth and a lot of people at the camp are trying to (cancel flights and arrange longer stays here),” Barhorn told CNN via text message from the Wi-Fi camp.

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Still, the poor conditions didn’t stop creativity, said Burhorn, who traveled from San Francisco.

“People make clay sculptures,” he said.

Andrew Hyde, another participant caught up in Burning Man, said despite the muddy conditions that made walking difficult, the weather took the meaning of the event back to its roots.

“You come here to be in severe weather, you prepare for it,” Hyde told CNN’s Paula Newton. “So in many ways, everyone here has made friends with their neighbors, and it’s a social phenomenon.”

Morale at the event is good and there is generally no panic among attendees, Hyde described the return of music overnight.

However, there are concerns about delays due to additional rain, however, the worst conditions are unknown.

“I think it’s a concern if there’s another rain,” he said. “People need to get back to their jobs, get back to their responsibilities back home.”

A rainbow appears over Burning Man in Nevada's Black Rock Desert on September 2, 2023.

Saturday night, organizers announced they would place mobile cell trailers at different locations, configure the company’s Wi-Fi system for public access, and send buses to nearby Gerlach to take people leaving Playa to Reno.

“This is not a 24-hour operation at this time,” the festival said in a statement on its website.

Organizers use four-wheelers and all-terrain tires to help transport medical and other emergency situations to Blacktop.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said there were people walking to a main road Saturday night and waiting for traffic from festival organizers.

The sheriff’s office said resources were brought in from around northern Nevada to help those with medical needs at the event grounds.

“Burning Man is a community of people willing to support each other,” Burning Man said on its website. “We came here knowing that this is a place that brings us everything we need to live. Because of this we are all well prepared for such a weather event.

“We have done table-top exercises for such events,” the organizers added. “We are fully engaged in all aspects of security and look forward to Exodus as our next priority.”

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