Tens of thousands of festival-goers were trapped in a muddy mess in the Nevada desert in the USA on Sunday after rain turned the annual Burning Man event into a quagmire.
Footage shows festival-goers struggling on the wet grey-brown terrain in an attempt to get away, with some using bin bags as makeshift boots, while dozens of vehicles were stuck in the mud.
The annual highlight of the festival – for which tickets cost hundreds of dollars – is the ceremonial burning of a 12 meter high installation sculpture.
The festival has been held since the 1990s in the Black Rock Desert, a protected area in northwestern Nevada.
However, many events at this counterculture festival, which attracted around 70,000 people, were canceled this year when heavy rain destroyed structures for dance parties, art installations and other entertainment.
Some festival-goers were terrified and desperately tried to flee the muddy terrain.
“I was afraid of what would happen if so many people ran out of toilet paper and water and food, so I felt I had to get out,” Pascale Brand, a 40-year-old visitor who traveled from the Netherlands to the festival, told AFP.
Brand says she “cried a lot” before she decided on Sunday that she had to leave the festival site, “no matter what”.
She got a ride with a neighbor and according to Brand they were fortunately able to leave the muddy terrain without any problems.
Apparently there were people who shouted at her “you can’t leave… Go back! The gates are closed,” but their vehicle was able to make it past an unmanned gate and onto a tarred road, says Brand.
Others completed the punishment on foot in the muddy conditions.
“It was an incredibly disturbing walk of about 10 km. We walked through heavy rain and slippery mud at midnight, but I got away safely,” Neal Katyal, a lawyer, said on social media.
Festival organizers encouraged festival-goers to “use food, water and fuel carefully and seek shelter in a warm, safe space”. The “playa” – the area where the festival is held – was impassable.
The police also said they were investigating a death in the rainy conditions, but did not want to provide any further details.
Organizers asked festival-goers to take shelter at the Black Rock City venue after heavy rain fell on Friday night. Scattered showers continued throughout the weekend, and it rained for two hours on Sunday.
“You can’t really walk or drive,” said a young circus performer, Christine Lee, on TikTok, adding that the mud was five inches deep in some areas.
Organizers also warned that only some four-wheel drive vehicles with all-terrain tires would be able to navigate the mess.
“Anything less than that will get stuck. It will further hinder the exodus if we have cars stuck on the roads.”
According to the organizers, it is possible to walk to the nearest road, where buses will be provided to take people to Reno.
Some of the passengers who were transported by the buses say they counted at least 25 vehicles that were stuck in mud on the roads.
According to an official of the White House, pres. Joe Biden briefed on the situation in the desert.
Burning Man, which was launched for the first time in San Francisco in 1986, is an indefinable event – somewhere between a celebration of counterculture and a spiritual retreat.
Last year festival goers were exposed to an intense heat wave and strong wind.