Thousands of Burning Man attendees finally made their mass exodus after intense rain over the weekend flooded camp sites and filled them with thick, ankle-deep mud, stranding more than 70,000 free-spirited revelers as they waited for the Nevada desert city to dry out.
It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that organizers officially announced the driving ban that was imposed amid heavy rains Friday had been lifted and attendees could safely leave Black Rock City, the makeshift city erected every year for the event. “Exodus operations have officially begun,” organizers said in the announcement.
The area was still muddy and parts were still difficult to navigate, organizers warned. They urged festivalgoers to postpone their departure to Tuesday to avoid creating massive congestion.
“If you are able to depart BRC tomorrow 9/5, please do so,” event leaders wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, late Monday evening. “You might be much happier hanging out in camp with your friends than sitting in a static line of cars for many hours. Wake up refreshed on Tuesday and hit the road then.”
The wait time to leave the city Monday night was roughly seven hours, organizers said. But that’s not unusual: It’s taken between 6 to 9 hours during peak travel times in past years, according to a Burning Man website.
For many attendees, getting stranded in the desert and missing flights and other responsibilities was stressful and unsettling. But many said the weather issues brought camp communities closer together, as people shared food and resources, offered shelter to those who needed it, and gathered together.
“As soon as the tents started getting water-logged or unlivable, people in RVs started taking in some of the tenters, so everybody was warm,” Kaz Qamruddin, who attended the event, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar Monday.
“We are a community that comes together in hard times,” he said, later adding,” It’s all about coming together and working as a team.”
Diplo, Cindy Crawford and others celebs navigate muddy desert
By the time officials lifted their travel ban, thousands of people had already left, some on foot, while others tested their luck in vehicles.
Among the early departures was music DJ Diplo, who told CNN he walked several miles in the muddy desert Saturday morning along with other celebrities, including Chris Rock, Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber and Austin Butler. When they reached the paved road, a fan offered them a ride in the back of a truck.
From the 72,000 people who were still on site late Sunday evening, roughly 64,000 remained midday Monday, organizers said.
Many stayed, heeding officials’ recommendations, and waiting for the climax of the event: The burning of the man.
One day later than scheduled, the massive wooden effigy known as the Man was set ablaze Monday night.
As the remnants of the effigy continued to burn Monday night, attendees were advised by organizers that the wait time to leave was eight hours. “Please get a good night’s sleep and leave later,” organizers posted to social media.
Qamruddin was still weighing out Monday afternoon when would be best to leave.
“I’m probably going to leave after the man burns tonight or tomorrow morning,” he said on Monday. “We’ve been notified that the gates are now open, the problem is that this Monday is the mass exodus so this is when the traffic will be the heaviest so people can plan on sitting in their cars anywhere from two to 12 to 14 hours on the way out.”
“So I’m going to wait and hopefully just be in line for a couple of hours before I head to Reno.”
After the first rains soaked campsites Friday, event leaders alerted attendees that driving was no longer allowed in the city. They halted entry and exit in the area, urged people to “shelter in place,” and conserve food and water.
The remote area in northwest Nevada was hit with up to 0.8 inches – about twice the average September rainfall – in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning. And more rain followed Sunday.
“Quite a wet start to September for much of eastern CA-western NV,” the National Weather Service in Reno wrote on X. ” The heaviest rain fell in far eastern Churchill & Pershing counties, with totals close to 2.5”!”
Pershing County is where Burning Man takes place.
The reason why rain can have such an impact in an area like Black Rock City is because of its ground: the desert’s clay cannot absorb the water as quickly as loam, or more fertile soil.
“That water mixes in with that clay and it creates that cement, muddy mixture that people inevitably got stuck in,” CNN Weather Anchor Derek Van Dam said.
It’s why, even as some four-wheel drive vehicles successfully left over the weekend, many others got stuck on the muddy roads, making delays worse for others trying to l
Festival organizers sent out updates every couple hours throughout the weekend, continuing to urge attendees to stay put, stressing the need to keep roads clear and sharing weather forecasts. Finally, at 2 p.m. Monday, “the driving ban has been lifted,” they said in a post.