Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters
Organizers of the annual Burning Man music and arts festival lifted a traffic ban on Monday afternoon, as the muddy roads that had stranded thousands of attendees in the Nevada desert dried out enough to allow people to start walking. leave.
“Exodus operations have officially begun in Black Rock City,” organizers announced at 2 p.m. local time Monday, about seven hours before the festival’s fiery conclusion. The burning of a giant, faceless effigy in the shape of a man took place on Monday evening, after being postponed twice due to weather.
But as early as Tuesday morning, the festival was asking attendees to consider staying a bit longer if they could. Traffic was so congested that at one point it took drivers about seven hours to drive an 8km route, strewn with puddles, to the nearest paved road. By mid-morning, that time had dropped to 2-3 a.m., said the organizers on social media.
And that was just the start of the return trip for the nearly 72,000 attendees to the festival’s remote northern Nevada site, about 120 miles north of the nearest airport, Reno. The airport warned on social networks that it lacked the facilities to accommodate travelers for long periods while they made their plans.
Even in normal years, exodus traffic jams can last six to nine hours, organizers say. Cars, trucks and motorhomes filled with sleeping bags, stoves and tents pile up on a single two-lane road leading to the nearest major highway.
But this year’s participants had been stranded since Sunday, after storms turned the desert beach into a mud bath. Nearly an inch of rainfall inundated the area from Friday, prompting event organizers to close off access to the festival until vehicles can pass safely and warning campers to keep the food and water.
The rainy weather didn’t dampen Burning Man’s spirit
Despite reports of stalled vehicles, overflowing port-a-potties, postponed bus transfers and spotty Wi-Fi service, several attendees who spoke to NPR said the rainy weather hadn’t eased their mood.
“We pool all of our food based on resources. And I would honestly say walking around the city, morale is pretty good,” participant Anya Kamenetz said on Sunday.
The harsh conditions are testing a community of so-called “burners,” which touts self-reliance and community effort among its core principles.
Event volunteer Josh Lease said that in the true spirit of Burning Man, people shared warm clothes and phone chargers where they could – and they kept the music blasting.
“It’s like any other Burning Man, just muddy,” he told NPR on Saturday night.
“These warnings sound very serious and, of course, the organization needs to tell people to be careful,” said NPR editor Claudia Peschiutta. morning edition who attended the event, but “I didn’t see anyone who seemed to care”.
A certain frustration, however, began to seep into some participants on Sunday.
In the rainy past of Burning Mans, longtime burner Joe Bamberg said he saw sofas, rugs and clothes end up drying out. But this time, “everything is damp and will be marred by mold,” he added.
“I’m not thrilled,” said Bamberg, who added, “People are getting by, that’s part of the adventure.”
Meanwhile, Nevada authorities were investigating a death at the scene. The Pershing County Sheriff said Saturday that a person was found dead on the beach, but declined to elaborate in an interview with CNN on Monday.
Some burners made the trip on foot
Julie Jammot/AFP via Getty Images
The Burning Man organization had started asking attendees to shelter in place on Saturday, when it announced that access to and from the venue was closed for the rest of the event, which runs from August 27 to September 4. Only emergency vehicles were allowed through, the organization said in a statement.
“Store food, water and fuel, and take shelter in a warm, safe space,” the statement urged those stuck in the desert.
Although they urged participants not to drive on Sunday, event officials said some vehicles designed for off-road terrain were able to navigate the mud and exit the event successfully.
Other participants chose to walk several kilometers through the mud to leave the field.
Music producer Diplo said he and comedian Chris Rock escaped the event on Saturday after traveling 6 miles before joining a fan in a van.
“I legitimately walked on the side of the road for hours with my thumb out because I have a show in Washington tonight and I didn’t want to disappoint you,” he wrote in an Instagram post.
Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general from the Obama era, also made the trip. He said he was safe after his first trip to the festival ended with “an incredibly grueling 6-mile hike at midnight through thick, slippery mud”.
President Biden had been made aware of the situation, according to a White House official. Event attendees were invited this weekend to listen to state and local officials, as well as event organizers, the administration official said.
“We came here knowing that this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive,” the organization said in a statement late Saturday. “It is thanks to this that we are all well prepared for a weather event like this.”
“We have tabletop exercises for events like this. We are committed full-time to all aspects of safety and view our Exodus as our next priority.”
More than 70,000 people visit the makeshift Black Rock City each year to dance, create art, and join a self-sufficient, counter-cultural community.
The week-long festival began in 1986 as a small gathering in San Francisco. Today, celebrities, tech moguls, and social media influencers are frequent attendees. This year’s ticket prices started at $575.
The weekend’s events were not the first time entry was blocked at this year’s festival. A group of climate protesters caused miles of traffic jams at the start of the event by parking a 28ft trailer in the way.