Burning Man organizers lift driving ban after heavy rains left the event smothered in mud

ByNouran Salahieh, Holly Yan and Camila Bernal, CNN
Monday, September 4, 2023
Thousands of stranded Burning Man campers may be able to leave soon
Tens of thousands of partygoers stranded at the Burning Man counterculture festival by a late summer storm hoped muddy roads would reopen Monday.

BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev. -- Hundreds of trucks, RVs and other vehicles are journeying out of the Burning Man festival grounds after heavy rains trapped tens of thousands of people in the makeshift city and surrounded them with ankle-deep mud too thick to drive in.

RELATED: 'Worse than mud': Burning Man attendees play waiting game for land to dry at Black Rock City

Event organizers officially lifted a driving ban Monday afternoon and said "exodus operations have officially begun in Black Rock City" - the makeshift city that's erected annually for the event.

Even before the driving ban was officially lifted, many started the trek back home. Drone footage shot by CNN showed what appeared to be hundreds of large vehicles lined up and making their way out.

RELATED: How stranded Burning Man festival attendee is coping with flood aftermath as more rain expected

About 70,000 people are stranded sheltering in place at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada.

Roads leading in and out of Black Rock City were closed starting Friday night, and event organizers imposed shelter-in-place orders the following day. Attendees were told to conserve food, water and fuel after the deluge made it virtually impossible for vehicles to drive on the surface.

The remote area in northwest Nevada was hit with two to three months' worth of rain - up to 0.8 inches - in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning. About 72,000 people remain on site, according to a Sunday night update from Burning Man organizers.

Sunny and dry conditions over western Nevada on Monday will allow "significant improvement to the muddy conditions at the Burning Man festival," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. The high temperature is expected to reach about 75 degrees.

Diplo and Chris Rock trudge, then hitchhike

Some have already left the site by plodding through the thick mud, but "most of the RVs are stuck in place," Pershing County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Nathan Carmichael said Sunday.

"Each step felt like we were walking with two big cinder blocks on our feet," said Amar Singh Duggal, who managed to leave the festival with his friends after hiking about 2 miles in the mud.

RELATED: Santa Cruz man at Burning Man breaks down situation as thousands stranded due to flooding

Thousands in attendance at the annual Burning Man Festival are stranded in the Nevada Desert after heavy rain turned the area into a giant mud pit.

Among those who trekked through the sludge was DJ Diplo, who spent hours hiking in the mud to try to get to his concert hours later in Washington, DC.

"I have some pretty strong leg muscles after that walk," Diplo told CNN on Monday morning. He credited duct tape and good boots that "were like three pounds each at one point" for helping him walk miles.

Then a fan offered Diplo - whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz - and comedian Chris Rock a ride.

"Some kid recognized me on the road and said, 'Hey, I'll give you a ride for the next two miles.' And of course, we gladly took it." Diplo said. He said he's thanking the "awesome" young man with admission to shows.

The symbolic bonfire gets rescheduled

The burning of the man - the huge totem set on fire at the festival's culmination - was rescheduled from Sunday night to Monday because of the poor weather, organizers said Sunday evening.

A death at the festival on Friday was "unrelated to the weather," Burning Man organizers said Sunday night.

RELATED: 1 death under investigation as thousands at Burning Man festival confined in desert, authorities say

One was death reported as Burning Man festivalgoers in the Nevada desert are being told to conserve food and water as they shelter in place.

"Our emergency services department reached a call for service extremely quickly for a male, approximately 40 years old, and could not resuscitate the patient," organizers said, without giving further details.

The Pershing County Sheriff's Office said it is investigating the death.

Resources have been brought in from around northern Nevada to help people with medical needs on the event grounds, the sheriff's office said.

Organizers also got more four-wheel-drive vehicles and all-terrain tires to help transport people with medical and other urgent needs.

Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis erected annually for the festival, comes complete with emergency, safety and sanitary infrastructure.

"We have done table-top drills for events like this," festival organizers said. "We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety and looking ahead to our Exodus as our next priority."

While some attendees adapt, others are 'beside themselves'

Festivalgoers - accustomed to braving the Nevada desert's extreme heat - have instead contended with rain and mud, rationing supplies and dealing with connectivity issues.

As roads in and out remain closed, attendees were stepping up and offering food and shelter to those who need it, festivalgoer Gillian Bergeron told CNN on Sunday.

"Most of the folks out there that go out somewhat regularly, they certainly made the best of it," Bergeron said. "It's a great community, people were helping each other offering food and water and shelter to those who needed it. If anything, I think it probably made the core community stronger."

Another attendee stuck at the Burning Man, Andrew Hyde, said the weather has taken the meaning of the event back to its roots.

"You come out here to be in a harsh climate, and you prepare for that," Hyde told CNN on Saturday.

Burning Man also described high morale among attendees who were sharing resources. "There is music playing, camp meals being shared, socializing, and walking around the playa to look at art and interact as a community," organizers said in a Sunday night update.

There are, however, worries about when roads will open.

"People need to go back to their jobs, back to the responsibilities they have back home," Hyde said.

Bergeron also saw people begin to grow concerned.

"There were certainly some people that were absolutely beside themselves and that were asking if their tickets would be reimbursed ... they were missing their flights," she said.

"It kind of just depended on their level of experience out there, their level of comfort out there and then potentially wherever they had to be come Monday or Tuesday morning."

Still, the poor conditions have not stopped the creativity, first-time attendee Hannah Burhorn said.

"People are building mud sculptures," she said Saturday evening.

The-CNN-Wire

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