Organizers of Burning Man, hit by flooding that left thousands of attendees stranded in the Nevada desert on Saturday, said they would be organizing shuttle buses to take people from the site of the counter-culture festival.
Those running the weeklong event closed vehicular access to the festival on Saturday, a day after a rainstorm swept through the area. It left attendees trudging through mud, many barefoot or wearing plastic bags on their feet. Revellers were urged to shelter in place and conserve food, water and other supplies.
“We are currently configuring the organization’s wifi system for public access,” a task they expected would be completed before 10 p.m. local time Saturday, the Burning Man website said.
Organizers encouraged participants to remain calm and suggested the festival is built to endure conditions like the flooding. They said their plan calls for buses to take attendees to Reno from the nearest town of Gerlach, a walk of about eight kilometres from the site.
However, vehicle gates will not open for the remainder of the event, which began on Aug. 27 and was scheduled to end Monday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Black Rock Desert where the festival is being held.
“We just watched [the rain] come down until, basically, it was a muddy mess,” Canadian festival-goer Mark Fromson told CBC News on Sunday.
“You couldn’t move bikes, all vehicles were basically stopped in their tracks, people were losing their shoes in the mud,” he added. “It was pretty chaotic.”
Celebrity DJ Diplo posted a video to Instagram on Saturday evening showing him and comedian Chris Rock riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. He said they had walked six miles (9.6 kilometres) through the mud before hitching a ride.
“I legit walked the side of the road for hours with my thumb out,” wrote Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz.
More than 12 millimetres of rain is believed to have fallen on Friday at the festival site, located about 177 kilometres north of Reno. According to the U.S. National Weather Service, at least another six millimetres was expected on Sunday.
Police probing possible death
Nevada authorities on Sunday said they were investigating one death at the festival.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in northern Nevada said in a statement that the death happened during a “rain event” on Saturday but did not provide details of the cause of death or the person’s identity.
“The family has been notified and the death is under investigation,” the sheriff’s office said. “As the death is still under investigation, there is no further information at this time.”
The Reno Gazette Journal reported organizers started rationing ice sales and that all vehicle traffic at the sprawling festival grounds had been stopped, leaving portable toilets unable to be serviced.
Vehicles could depart by late Monday
More than 60,000 participants travel to and from the remote area in northwest Nevada every year, according to the event’s website, gathering in the temporary city to make art, dance, and enjoy community. Local media reported there were around 73,000 “Burners” — a moniker for festival-goers — in Black Rock City this year.
Because of the mud, no driving is allowed except for emergency vehicles and organizers said they didn’t have a time yet when the roads would “be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to navigate safely.” But if weather conditions improve, they were hopeful vehicles could depart by late Monday.
The announcements came just before the culminating moment for the annual event — when a large wooden effigy was to be burned Saturday night.
Many people played beer pong, danced and splashed in standing water, the Gazette Journal reported. Mike Jed, a festival-goer, and fellow campers made a bucket toilet so people didn’t have to trudge as often through the mud to reach the portable toilets.
“If it really turns into a disaster, well, no one is going to have sympathy for us,” Jed said. “I mean, it’s Burning Man.”
Fromson told CBC News that “Burners” are self-reliant and uniquely prepared a situation like this.
“We come out here really, really prepared for the most part,” he said. “The majority of the ‘Burners’ always come with double what they need, so we can stay here another week if we had to.”
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