Tens of thousands of drenched festivalgoers were stranded Sunday in deep, sticky mud in the Nevada desert after torrential rain turned the annual Burning Man gathering into a quagmire.
Video footage showed costume-wearing “burners” struggling across the wet gray-brown site, some using trash bags as makeshift boots, while many vehicles were stuck in sludge up to the top of their wheels.
All events at the counterculture festival, which drew some 70,000 people, were canceled after rain tore down structures for dance parties, art installations and other eclectic entertainment.
Road gates in and out of the Black Rock City venue were closed, but some desperate attendees trudged on foot for hours to reach the nearest road and hitch a lift out.
The nearest airport is a three-hour drive away in the casino city of Reno.
Festival crowds were asked to shelter in place and conserve food and water after the heavy rains started Friday night, with more downpours forecast on Sunday.
Police are investigating one death at the festival but have not said if it is weather related.
“You can’t really walk or drive,” a young woman with dreadlocks named Christine Lee, a circus performer, said on TikTok. Internet service was not available or patchy, she said.
“My boots are five inches, and the mud became five inches so I was kind of on stilts,” Lee said, adding people were being told they may be stuck until Tuesday.
“We have enough tuna for a week so we’re OK,” she said.
A video posted on social media showed comedian Chris Rock hitching a ride in the back of a pickup truck after managing to leave.
Pershing County Sheriff’s Sargent Nathan Carmichael told CNN the conditions are difficult.
The muck “seems to stick to people, stick to tires (and) makes it very, very difficult to move vehicles around,” he said, adding that most RV motorhomes were stranded.
Organizers urged festivalgoers to “conserve food, water and fuel, and shelter in a warm, safe space,” saying the “playa” — the huge open-air esplanade where the event unfolds — was impassable.
“Look out for your neighbors, introduce yourself,” they added.
The festival was scheduled to conclude on Monday.
– ‘Survival guide’ –
The organizers warned only some four-wheel drive vehicles with all-terrain tires were able to move.
“Anything less than that will get stuck. It will hamper exodus if we have cars stuck on roads in our camping areas, or on the Gate Road out of the city,” they said on a “2023 Wet Playa Survival Guide” special webpage.
If necessary, they said it was possible to walk five miles (eight kilometers) to the nearest road, where buses would be provided during daylight hours to transport people to Reno.
Mobile cellphone trailers were being deployed and the site’s wireless internet was opened for public access.
“We have done table-top drills for events like this. We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety,” organizers said.
Last year, the festival contended with an intense heat wave and strong winds.
Launched in 1986 in San Francisco, Burning Man aims to be an undefinable event, somewhere between a celebration of counterculture and a spiritual retreat.
The festival — for which tickets cost hundreds of dollars — culminates each year with the ceremonial burning of a 40-foot (12-meter) effigy.
It has been held since the 1990s in the Black Rock Desert, a protected area in northwest Nevada, which the organizers are committed to preserving.
Originally published as Thousands stuck in deep mud at Burning Man festival