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Local authorities in the Nevada desert are investigating at least one death at the Burning Man festival after rain and flash flooding forced tens of thousands of attendees to shelter in place and conserve resources on Saturday.
Although the deceased person’s identity or the cause of death has not been publicly released, authorities said family members have been notified.
Thick, ankle-deep mud overwhelmed more than 70,000 people attending the annual weeklong summer festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, as heavy rain poured in the area for several hours, leaving festival-goers stranded.
Burning Man festival, which has been drawing up to 100,000 people to the remote area roughly 100 miles away from Reno since the 1980s, describes itself as a “community and global cultural movement” that tests self-sufficiency, promotes radical self-expression, and pinnacles at the end during the burning of a giant wooden effigy.
This year’s event began on August 27 and was scheduled to end Monday. But after heavy rains began flooding the festival site and adding to an already saturated playa on Friday night, the Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office officials closed the festival’s entrance gate.
Due to recent rainfall, the Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff's Office officials have closed the entrance to Burning Man for the remainder of the event. Please avoid traveling to the area; you will be turned around. All event access is closed. pic.twitter.com/BY8Rv7eFLD
— Washoe Sheriff (@WashoeSheriff) September 2, 2023
“More rain is expected over the next few days and conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow vehicles to enter the playa,” the Bureau of Land Management said in a statement reported by the Reno Gazette Journal.
Organizers said early Sunday morning that the gate was still shut.
Pershing County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nathan Carmichael told CNN on Sunday the rain created “very greasy, very muddy” conditions that stuck to people and tires and “makes it very, very difficult to move vehicles around.”
“Some people are walking out,” Carmichael told CNN, but organizers and the sheriff’s office are “asking people to stay in place until the ground becomes hard enough and safe enough to travel.”
The Burning Man Project said in a statement Sunday morning, “The roads remain too wet and muddy to officially open them for Exodus. There is also an uncertain weather front approaching Black Rock City.”
Organizers also encouraged attendees to conserve food, water, and fuel. They reportedly began sending medical supplies, buses, and other four-wheel-drive vehicles to the nearby city of Gerlach to pick up festival-goers who may have started walking out of the desert. The organizers have also placed mobile cell trailers around the site on Sunday for those stranded to access Wi-Fi.
“Burning Man is a community of people who are prepared to support one another,” the organization said on its website. “We have come here knowing this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive. It is because of this that we are all well-prepared for a weather event like this.”
“We have done table-top drills for events like this,” organizers added. “We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety and looking ahead to our Exodus as our next priority.”
Fox Weather reported flood watches remain in effect through Sunday across the region due to the forecasted heavy rain.