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At Burning Man, the rain ends and the exodus begins

Deluged by days of rain, thousands of people stranded on the muddy Playa of Burning Man festival began pouring out of the remote northwest Nevada area on Monday.

In the afternoon long lines of RVs, trucks, trailers and other vehicles could be seen as the participants slowly made their way across the desert.

Festival organizers delayed the “exodus” of visitors several times because a main road remained “a little too muddy” for vehicles to pass, according to a statement on the festival’s website.

Finally, at 2 p.m., festival radio station BMIR 94.5 announced that “exodus operations have officially begun” and the “driving ban has been lifted.” The airport in Black Rock City also reopened in the afternoon, organizers said.

According to the BMIR, around 64,000 people were still on site as of Monday afternoon. According to the festival, on Monday at 7 p.m. the waiting time to leave Black Rock City had increased to “7 hours and more”. official traffic account.

According to a dispatcher with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, local authorities are investigating the death of a festival-goer whose family has been notified. The death, which occurred on Friday and was unrelated to the weather, was of a man in his 40s who could not be resuscitated, a festival spokesman said.

After being postponed due to inclement weather, the cremation of the festival’s eponymous ‘man’ – a climax event that sees a huge human-like structure set ablaze amid massive fireworks – finally took place on Monday night.

“People out there are completely crazy right now. After everything we’ve been through over the past three days, it feels really good to get together and do this,” said the unidentified woman, who hosted the festival’s official livestream, just after 9 p.m. as nearly 14,000 people tuned in to watch the sculpture erupt in flames. “I mean, there was never any doubt that the man would burn, but it still feels like a triumph.”

Monday marked a turning point for this year’s ailing festival. The sun was shining, warming the Black Rock Desert to over 70 degrees, according to the Reno office of the National Weather Service. In the early afternoon, the festival webcast showed people walking and cycling through Black Rock City with ease.

Organizers asked participants to delay their departure until Tuesday to ease congestion, urging people to wait for a ride from a central location rather than attempt to walk through the mud.

However, their pleas came too late to stop the many frustrated festival-goers who had already fled.

By Sunday afternoon, it was clear to everyone that the exodus would not go according to plan. For Katya Lee and her crew, that meant splitting up camp to conserve food and water and sending a group of 20 people on foot to evacuate.

Avoiding the central “town” of the festival site, which had been rendered almost impassable by mud, they walked across the open desert without a clear idea of ​​what to expect when they hit the paved road miles away, or if they would could get stranded on the way.

“When we decided to walk we weren’t sure if there would be enough buses. So we just had to bet on it,” said 38-year-old Lee from Venice.

A person walks in the mud.

Katya Lee walks through the mud at Burning Man Festival.

(Katya Lee)

Rangers in military vehicles crossed the open desert and directed those who saw them on foot toward an exit, she said. But with the rain in the afternoon, their march only slowly slowed.

“It’s really slow as the mud builds up, you’re basically running with 20 pounds on your feet,” Lee said. “It was getting dark. We saw two men with bikes in the middle of nowhere, not moving because it started raining. It’s like dropping the bike and surviving, or staying alone in the mud at night, which gets cold.”

In all, they were about three hours on the road before catching a charter bus just as it was getting dark.

Every seat on the bus was covered with black garbage bags. They were transported on one bus and then transferred to another in Reno, where she and three friends shared a hotel room while awaiting their flight back to LA

“That’s why we left, because we knew that if we stayed, we wouldn’t get another flight,” she said. “Seventy thousand people are trying to get home and we’re flying into LA, which is a big hub. I really wanted to stay, I didn’t want to let everyone down, but it was wise to leave.”

she will come back But she worried for others who were less prepared.

“I just think of virgins who have been there for the first time and that’s their experience,” Lee said. “People have lost it, and that scares everyone.”

First-timer Jillian Gleeson, 21, watched helplessly as another campervan at her camp struggled to get out of the mud Sunday night, with its septic tank eventually bursting open and spilling sewage everywhere.

“It’s definitely moop,” she said, using the festival’s acronym for “Matter Out of Place” or Trash. She didn’t know what they would do about it, but thought maybe they would end up physically wrapping it up and carrying it out by hand.

“If you leave a certain amount of moop behind, you will be fined. That affects your position on the playa and your moop score,” Gleeson said. “I know our camp has been cleaning up the mud and trying to dig things up for the past few days.”

Otherwise, there wasn’t much to do other than wait for the festival’s climax event, the burning of the eponymous “man,” scheduled for Monday night.

After that, she feared a fight against everyone.

“I’m a bit worried about how many people are going to leave at once because I know it’s usually sporadic at Burning Man … but I think this year people want to go out more at the same time,” she said. ” It’s probably going to take forever and I really hope no one gets stuck because it’s going to take even longer.”

Your shoes are ruined. Your group is running out of gas. And every hour more people come to them in search of water and food.

“I’m pretty much over it,” Gleeson said. “I would like to go.”

Another newcomer, David Marder, was also concerned about the exodus as he viewed the scene around him on Sunday night. He said he saw the mood and sentiment change instantly with the rain and feared morale could plummet if conditions worsened.

“We really can’t drive out here until it’s dry,” said Marder. “It’s incredibly sticky. If you’re wearing boots or plastic bags that it likes to stick to, you could easily have 10 pounds of mud. You cannot roll your bike in it. The mud sticks to the tires and then to the brake mechanism and frame. I’ve seen cars stuck, a van. The poor guy is scraping the mud out from between his tires.”

On Monday, organizers reminded attendees of Burning Man’s “leave no trace” policy, meaning that all attendees are expected to take out anything they’ve brought with them and clean up their bin before leaving town .

Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen, in an email Monday afternoon, targeted Burning Man attendees, who he said “showed no compassion for those around them who have been suffering from the same issues over the past few days.” to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“As is usual in what Burnern calls the ‘Standard World,’ people allow their emotions to override their sanity and smack each other as they leave the playa and try to get to their next destination ‘ Allen told the Chronicle. “This behavior definitely doesn’t fall under the 10 principles of Burning Man, but that’s not BMP’s fault either, it’s a societal issue.”

The Black Rock Desert got half an inch to an inch of rain over the weekend, said Mark Deutschendorf, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Reno office. “That’s a couple of months’ rain falling in one day,” he said.

People with sufficient supplies may remain at the cremation ceremony Monday night, but Deutschendorf anticipates long delays for those trying to leave.

“Even in a good year, it takes hours to get out of there,” he said.

Julia Wick, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.

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