The annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert was hit by a double tragedy this weekend, as one person died and thousands were stranded by heavy rains that turned the ground into mud.
Death under investigation
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said the death occurred during the event but offered few details as the investigation continued, including the identity of the deceased person or the suspected cause of death. The sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for comment from the media.
Some attendees speculated that the death might have been related to a dust storm that swept through the festival on Friday night, reducing visibility and causing some structures to collapse. However, this has not been confirmed by the authorities.
The death cast a shadow over the festival, which is known for its celebration of art, self-expression and community. The event attracts tens of thousands of people every year, who create a temporary city in the Black Rock Desert.
Floods strand attendees
The festival was also disrupted by heavy rains that flooded the desert on Friday and Saturday, making the roads impassable and leaving many attendees stranded. Organizers closed vehicular access to the festival and urged participants to shelter in place and conserve food, water and other supplies.
Many attendees trudged through mud, many barefoot or wearing plastic bags on their feet, to reach the nearest town of Gerlach, about five miles away from the site. Some hitched rides with locals or fellow burners who had managed to get their vehicles out of the mud.
Among those who were stuck in the desert were celebrities such as DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock, who posted a video on Instagram showing them riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. Diplo said they had walked six miles through the mud before getting a lift.
Organizers said they were working with local authorities and volunteers to provide transportation and assistance to those who needed it. They also said they were dropping cellphone trailers and opening up internet access in several locations to help attendees communicate with their families and friends.
Festival continues despite challenges
Despite the challenges, many attendees said they were still enjoying the festival and its spirit of resilience. Some played beer pong, danced and splashed in standing water. Others helped each other with food, water and shelter.
The festival continued with its scheduled events, including the burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday night, which is the highlight of the week-long event. The spectacle drew cheers and applause from the crowd, who watched as flames engulfed the structure.
Organizers said they were grateful for the support and cooperation of the participants, who showed their preparedness and creativity in dealing with the situation. They also thanked the local community and authorities for their assistance and patience.
The festival is expected to end on Monday, but it is not clear when all the attendees will be able to leave the site. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the land where the festival is held, said vehicle gates will not open for the remainder of the event. More rain is expected on Sunday, which could further delay the departure of vehicles.