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Burning Man flooding strands tens of thousands at Nevada site; authorities are investigating 1 death


BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. (AP) — Tens of thousands of people gathered for the Burning Man festival remained stranded in the Nevada desert on Sunday after storms that swept through the area, as authorities investigated a possible death and worked to open exit paths by the end of the Labor Day weekend.

Organizers closed vehicular access to the counterculture festival and attendees trudged through mud, many barefoot or wearing plastic bags on their feet. The revelers were urged to shelter in place and conserve food, water and other supplies. Most remained hunkered down hoping roads open as early as Monday, though a few managed to walk several miles to the nearest town.

Celebrity DJ Diplo posted a video to Instagram on Saturday evening showing him and comedian Chris Rock riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. He said they had walked six miles through the mud before hitching a ride.

“I legit walked the side of the road for hours with my thumb out,” wrote Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz.

The counterculture gathering in the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Reno typically attracts nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists who spend tens of millions of dollars in Nevada. Combining wilderness camping with avant-garde performances at a Mardi Gras-like celebration, the event typically goes for a week and emphasizes self-sufficiency — meaning most people bring in their own food, water and other supplies.

Disruptions are nothing new to the festival. Organizers had to temporary halt entrances to the festival in 2018 due to dust storms, and the event was twice canceled altogether during the pandemic.

Those who remained Sunday described a resilient community making the most of the muddy conditions that have made it difficult to walk or even bike around Burning Man. Many posted selfies of themselves covered in mud, dancing or splashing in the makeshift lakes.

“Honestly, we’re having a great time,” Theresa Galeani, who is at Burning Man and expected to be there for the rest of the week.

“We have not witnessed any negativity, any rough times,” she said. “Some people … were supposed to leave a few days ago so they’re out of water or food. But I am an organizer so I went around and found more water and food. There is more than enough here for people. We just have to get it to everyone.”

Ed Fletcher of Sacramento, a longtime Burning Man attendee, arrived in Black Rock City over a week ago to start setting up. When the rain hit, he and his campmates threw a party and “danced the night away” in their muddy shoes.

“Radical self-reliance is one of the principles of Burning Man,” he said. “Burning Man has always been a little bit about the struggle. The desert will try to kill you in some way, shape or form.”

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said a death happened during the event but offered few details as the investigation continued, including the identity of the deceased person or the suspected cause of death, KNSD-TV reported.

On their website, organizers encouraged participants to remain calm and suggest that the festival is built to endure conditions like the flooding. They said cellphone trailers were being dropped in several locations Saturday night and that they would be briefly opening up internet overnight. Shuttle buses were also being organized to take attendees to Reno from the nearest town of Gerlach, a walk of about five miles (eight kilometers) from the site.

“Burning Man is a community of people who are prepared to support one another. We have come here knowing this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive,” the organizers said in a statement. “It is because of this that we are all well-prepared for a weather event like this.”

Vehicle gates will not open for the remainder of the event, which began on Aug. 27 and was scheduled to end Monday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Black Rock Desert where the festival is being held.

More than one-half inch of rain is believed to have fallen on Friday at the festival site, the National Weather Service in Reno said. At least another quarter of an inch of rain is expected Sunday.

The Reno Gazette Journal reported organizers started rationing ice sales and that all vehicle traffic at the sprawling festival grounds had been stopped, leaving portable toilets unable to be serviced.

Officials said late Saturday the entrance to the event remained closed, and it wasn’t immediately known when celebrants could leave the grounds. No driving is allowed except for emergency vehicles and organizers said they didn’t have a time yet when the roads would “be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to navigate safely.” But if weather conditions improve, they were hopeful vehicles could depart by late Monday.

The announcements came just before the culminating moment for the annual event — when a large wooden effigy was to be burned Saturday night. Organizers said late Saturday that all burns for now had been postponed.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Casey in Boston and Lea Skene in Baltimore contributed.

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