Roads out of the Burning Man festival may reopen Monday for the tens of thousands of people trapped for a third day in the Nevada desert after heavy rains covered the grounds with ankle-deep mud too thick to drive on and forced organizers to impose shelter-in-place orders.
Roads leading in and out of the Black Rock Desert event grounds were closed Saturday and attendees were told to conserve food, water and fuel after the deluge made it “virtually impossible” for vehicles to drive on the surface, authorities said.
The weeklong festival is scheduled to come to an end Monday, but it remains unclear exactly when attendees will be allowed to drive out of the area. Organizers were expected to announce road reopening plans Monday morning.
“Despite afternoon drizzle, the conditions are improving on the playa,” Burning Man organizers said Sunday night. “The roads in Black Rock City remain too wet and muddy to officially open them for Exodus on Sunday 9/3.”
Clear skies were expected to return Monday, and Burning Man organizers said they “expect to start Exodus on Monday morning 9/4 as long as the conditions improve.”
Some people have left the site by trudging out on foot through the thick mud, but “most of the RVs are stuck in place,” Pershing County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Nathan Carmichael told CNN Sunday morning.
“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.
Among those who hiked out for miles through the mud from the festival was DJ Diplo, who then had to hitchhike on the back of a pickup truck with comedian Chris Rock, the DJ said on Instagram.
Approximately 72,000 people remain on site, according to a Sunday night update from Burning Man organizers.
The burning of the man– the huge totem set on fire at the festival’s culmination – will now happen on Monday instead of Sunday night because of the poor weather, organizers announced Sunday evening.
The remote area in northwest Nevada was hit with 2 to 3 months’ worth of rain – up to 0.8 inches – in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning.
The heavy rainfall fell on dry desert grounds, whipping up thick, clay-like mud that some festivalgoers say is so thick they’ve had to tie bags around their feet to walk through it.
A death at the festival just ahead of the weekend was “unrelated to the weather,” Burning Man organizers said Sunday night. Emergency personnel responded to a call for service regarding a 40-year-old man Friday but could not resuscitate him, organizers said, without providing further details.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office earlier 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 situations.
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.”
Festivalgoers, accustomed to braving the Nevada desert extreme heat, have instead been contending 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 Sunday.
“Most of the folks out there that go out somewhat regularly, they certainly made the best of it,” Bergeron told CNN. “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 it 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’s Paula Newton 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 the unknowns of when roads will open back up.
“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, Hannah Burhorn, a first-time attendee at the festival, told CNN.
“People are building mud sculptures,” she said Saturday evening.