In the heart of the desert in Nevada in the United States, thousands of participants in the Burning Man festival remain trapped on Sunday evening, after heavy and unusual rains fell in the area over the weekend and turned its dry, dusty ground into deep mud that makes it very difficult for vehicles to pass through.
Among those who are stuck there are many Israelis, and they were called to conserve the food, water and fuel they have out of fear that they will be required to stay at the site for the next several days, until the mud dries enough for them to leave. Some are not willing to wait and, according to reports, there are quite a few who slogged through the mud and traveled many kilometers on foot to escape.
Israeli Nir Lahav, 46, who lives in Berkeley, California, and is participating in the festival for the fifth time, told Ynet that, despite the drama, there are those who continue to enjoy themselves.
"People don't talk about asking for a refund or anything like that, the mindset is that if we're already stuck here, then let's keep having fun," he said. "Everyone knows it's hardcore camping. The big events have been canceled but now they are holding parties in the area instead. People continue to enjoy themselves and there's no pressure here."
Lahav estimates that he and his wife will stay there at least until Wednesday, when they hope the mud will dry up. "It always looks worse in pictures and in the news. It just rained a lot yesterday, the ground doesn't absorb the water and there is a lot of mud. You can't drive like that because you can get stuck, so they closed the gates. The situation here is fine, there is food, drink and everything. There are people whose tent was a little overrun" with water, he said.
Gal Buzaglo, 32, from Tel Aviv, is traveling in the U.S. and came to the festival with eight friends. He sounded more worried and noted that one of the biggest difficulties now is the lack of toilets.
"We currently have a supply of water and food but no ability to attend to our needs properly because the septic tanks are full," Buzaglo said, adding that on Friday he and his friends began to fold up their camp for fear of getting stuck, but then they received the message that the exits and entrances to the camp were closed.
"The day started with a lot of messages from the state and a lot of pressure that put the members of the camp here under pressure. The city here is huge and you don't know what is happening on the other side and how much the situation is as described," he added. "The feelings are very mixed and we really want to maintain calm, but on the other hand we really want to be on the road and go home. The previous week was wonderful and an extraordinary experience, but every moment that requires us to be here involuntarily clouds the week we've had."
Emi Max, an Israeli who lives in Los Angeles and whose children and grandchildren are participating in the festival, said that she was worried Saturday following the reports of the floods on the site, but her daughter responded when she sent her a message, writing: "What are you worried about, mom? Everything is fine with us."
Many Israelis, Max points out, missed their flights home, but this is not just a problem for Israelis: many of the participants face communication problems, and have been unable to cancel or postpone their scheduled flights.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said Sunday morning that there have been several inquiries to situation center regarding Israelis who participated in the festival who have lost contact.
Burning Man is one of the most famous music and art festivals in the US, which represents counterculture values and has been held every summer since 1986. In its early years, it was held on the beaches of San Francisco, but since 1990 it moved to the Nevada desert, with the nearest city, Reno, about 160 km away.
A huge temporary city is set up for just for the festival. This city, known as the "Black Rock City," consists of tents, caravans and other temporary structures, which are all dismantled at the end of the festival. This year some 70,000 participants attended Burning Man, paying $575 per ticket. During the festival, the participants build various art exhibits, with some groups preparing for this for months. The climax of the event takes place toward its end: the burning of a huge statue in the form of a man, hence the name of the event.
This year's festival opened on August 28 and was supposed to end Monday, with the statue burning ceremony planned for Sunday night. But all the official events were canceled after an unusual rainstorm hit the area and, according to reports, it is the worst rain in the festival's history. The dry land where it was held, known as the playa, is not used to large amounts of rain, and in the 24 hours between Friday morning and Saturday morning an enormous amount of rain - more than 200 mm - ell there, an amount that usually falls there during the period of between two and three months. The ground could not absorb the heavy rain, and therefore became very muddy.
CNN reported from an official in the local authorities that until last night there had been no casualties at the festival, but according to other reports there were cases of people suffering from hypothermia, and this morning authorities announced that they were investigating a death that occurred on the festival grounds during what they called the "rain event". The details of the dead man and the circumstances of his death have not been revealed so far, but authorities emphasized that his family has been notified.
The mud, which according to the reports reaches up to the ankles of the festival participants, also makes it very difficult for vehicles to pass, and out of that these will get stuck, the access roads to the temporary city were closed Saturday night, and only emergency vehicles have been allowed to enter or leave. The organizers stated that only 4x4 vehicles that are adapted to difficult terrain conditions can drive through the mud without getting stuck. Since service vehicles are unable to reach the place, the mobile toilets that were placed on the site were also closed, and some of those at the site say that they have been forced to defecate in buckets. The organizers said that it will take two days for the mud to dry, but the rain is expected to continue falling Sunday night as well, so it is not clear when vehicles will be allowed to leave the site. Because of this, the participants have been called on to ration much as possible on the food and water they have on hand.
The organizers emphasized that the temporary city at the festival site is equipped with the necessary emergency infrastructure, and that they were well prepared for a scenario like the one that has now occurred.
"Burning Man is a community of people who are willing to help each other," they said, "We came here knowing that this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive. For this reason, we are well prepared for such a weather event," they added. "We are now busy with all aspects related to (participant) safety and our next priority is our mass exodus from here."
The organizers called on the festival participants to "take shelter" and stay at the site, but some of them chose to leave it on foot and made an arduous journey through the mud to reach the nearest road that remained open. Two of those who have made this journey are comedian Chris Rock and DJ Diplo. Diplo posted on the social network X (formerly Twitter) a video in which he and Rock are seen in a car in which they caught a ride: "I walked 5 miles (8 km) in the mud outside Burning Man with Chris Rock and a fan picked us up," he wrote alongside the video, which has already received more than 7.5 million views. He added that he only made this journey because he has an upcoming show in Washington, D.C., and he didn't want to disappoint his fans: "I literally walked on the side of the road, for hours, with my thumbs out."