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Thousands of people attending the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert have been left stranded after torrential rainfall transformed the US’s signature countercultural event into a muddy “hellscape” that could endure for days.
The storms hit Black Rock City, Nevada on Friday evening, shutting roads and trapping more than 70,000 people in a camping area where food and water are being rationed and portable toilets have stopped functioning.
“It is chaos . . . The [portable toilets] are flooded over and they cannot get the sewage trucks in here,” said Kris Edwards, a festival attendee on TikTok on Saturday. “People are still partying though, you hear it.”
Burning Man was once a symbol of American alternative lifestyles but has turned into an annual end-of-summer destination for social media influencers and celebrities. The event is named after the burning of a human effigy on the venue known as the playa, a ritual that has been postponed due to the rain.
Among the attendees this year were comedian Chris Rock and Diplo, a DJ. They fled on the back of a pick-up truck after hiking to a freeway, according to a TikTok post from Diplo. Videos on social media showed other festival-goers trudging five miles through six inches of mud in a bid to escape the venue before lockdowns went into effect.
“Welcome to Burning Man aka Hellscape,” a user named Thatcher posted on TikTok, showing a clip of hundreds of mountain bikes sinking into inches of thick mud.
Burning Man’s organisers urged attendees to shelter in place and to conserve food, water and fuel. The local airport is closed and no driving is permitted on the venue except for emergency vehicles.
“Take advantage of a moment of calm to connect with campmates and hunker down,” the organisers wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday morning.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, the local police authority, said it was investigating one death during the rain event. Wet conditions made it “virtually impossible” for vehicles to traverse the playa, the police said.
“There is more rain forecast for the next few days which could cause further delays and disruptions for participants attempting to leave the festival,” said Pershing County sheriff Jerry Allen in a statement.
Attendees were quick to post videos on TikTok and Instagram of conditions over the weekend, including immobilised sunken SUVs and broken portable toilets.
“I’ve never seen conditions like this — even a nice mountain bike doesn’t work,” said festivalgoer Marshall Mosher on TikTok on Sunday. He ended his videos with a clip of a rainbow over the campgrounds and a quotation: “No matter the challenge. Burning Man shows us that there’s always beauty on the other side of adversity.”
The National Weather Service expects rain and thunderstorms to continue into Sunday evening. Some festival attendees say they do not expect to be able to leave until Wednesday.
Angie Peacock, a first-time visitor, assured her followers on TikTok on Saturday that she was alive and dismissed concerns of the conditions at Burning Man. The water had been shut down and she was assisting pulling power cables out of the mud, Peacock said.
“We’re just doing minimal life activities . . . I can probably predict that everybody’s gonna get naked and run through the mud,” said Peacock, sharing a clip on Instagram hours later of a naked mud run.