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Thousands stuck at Burning Man amid mud, dust and ‘really gross’ bathrooms

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Burning Man attendees remained stuck and unable to exit festival grounds Sunday as more rain and wind washed through Black Rock City, Nev., leaving celebrators mired in glue-like muddy conditions and with plenty of questions about what to do next.

As of Sunday morning, the roads were still too wet to open them to leave and climate conditions for the rest of the day remained “uncertain,” according to a statement from the festival’s organizers.

Officials reported one death at the festival on Saturday. Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said in a statement that the sheriff’s office was “investigating a death which occurred during this rain event,” adding that the person’s family had been notified. He did not, however, specify how the death occurred.

“As this death is still under investigation, there is no further information available at this time,” the statement said.

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the conditions at the site on Sunday and did not clarify whether the reported death was related to the weather.

President Biden has been briefed on the issues, a White House official said Sunday. His administration will continue to monitor the situation and be in contact with state and local authorities in Nevada.

Sgt. Nathan J. Carmichael of the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office told CNN on Sunday that there were 70,000 people stranded and that the accumulated rain from the past few days had created “very greasy and very muddy” conditions, making it very difficult to move vehicles around.

Some attendees attempted to leave the site by walking in small groups to nearby County Road 34, where they waited for transport by the Burning Man organization, the sheriff’s office said.

“Some people are walking out,” Carmichael said, but organizers and the sheriff’s office were “asking people to stay in place until the ground becomes hard enough and safe enough to travel.”

Carmichael said that although most vehicles at the site were stuck, people were in “good spirits” and that there was no shortage of food and water.

Burning Man attendees remained stuck and unable to exit festival grounds Sunday. (Video: Jhaan Elker)

The festival’s organizers said they closed the roads because of muddy conditions. Only vehicles with four-wheel-drive and all-terrain tires were able to navigate the mud and were “successfully leaving,” while all other cars trying to depart were getting stuck in the cement-like mud.

“Please do not drive at this time,” organizers wrote on the event’s website. “Road conditions differ based on the neighborhood.”

Despite the adversities, organizers said they planned to carry out the culminating ceremony Sunday night, which entails torching a gigantic wooden effigy referred to as “the man.”

Attendees at Black Rock City described the event site Sunday as dusty and dirty, full of whiteouts and dust storms. Some said the mud was just another weather event that made it harder to move around in. Others said the sticky conditions were causing them to slip and slide. Some were wrapping their shoes in Ziploc bags taped around their feet.

Shan Talapatra, a San Francisco resident attending the festival for the second time, said he and his friends spent Saturday night walking around with other attendees. “Spirits were high everywhere we went,” he said. Most people he spoke with had extra food and water. But something foul lingered in the air.

“The hardest thing will certainly be bathrooms filling up,” he said. “I’ve heard some are definitely getting really gross.”

Talapatra said people with RVs had aided those in need of a bathroom. The more experienced “Burners,” he said, were prepared for harsher conditions.

According to the festival’s online “survival guide,” Burning Man was built to face floods and stormy weather. Organizers said Saturday night that cellphone trailers were placed in several locations throughout the event site, and they opened up internet access overnight to account for the poor weather. Shuttle buses were being organized to pick up guests who had decided to walk from the site through the desert, known as “the playa,” and take them to Reno, which is about 120 miles away.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office closed the entrance to Burning Man on Saturday for the remainder of the event, urging people to avoid traveling in the area because they would be turned around.

“Vehicle traffic on the playa was at a full stop due to heavy rain causing deep mud,” John Asselin, a BLM spokesperson, said Sunday. “Anyone planning on going to the event should turn around and go home.”

Between two and three months’ worth of rain fell on the festival site over a 24-hour period on Friday and Saturday, according to multiple reports, causing the massive flooding that forced evacuations, trapped vehicles and blocked entrances.

The amount of rain that fell in the area in that short of time is a rarity, said Brittany Whitlam, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno. Only warm and dry conditions will help the water evaporate, but that won’t happen immediately.

“It may take some time for that water on the playa to evaporate,” she said.

Showers and thunderstorms were expected to continue throughout the weekend, with a quarter-inch of rain expected on Sunday alone.

Black Rock City Municipal Airport, a pop-up airport operated during Burning Man, was closed on Saturday night, according to the festival. The airport remained closed Sunday, with no exiting or entering allowed.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport said in a statement Sunday that it was prepared to “welcome Burners as they travel back home.”

Neal Katyal, a 53-year-old law professor from Chicago and former acting U.S. solicitor general, said he experienced a “harrowing” six-mile journey when leaving the festival. He said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that he walked through “heavy and slippery mud” but got out safely.

“Never been before and it was fantastic (with brilliant art and fabulous music) … except the ending,” he wrote.





POST AUTHOR: Herb Scribner, Paulina Villegas

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