Photo: __tiktokdetective__/TikTok

Burning Man 2023 Was a Flooded Mess. Here’s What It Looked Like on the Ground

by Matador Creators Sep 5, 2023

A week ago, those not attending Burning Man might have been jealous at the prospect of seeing pictures and videos of the event. Now, non-festival goers are likely breathing a sigh of relief to be as far away from the Black Rock Desert as possible. The weeklong festival in the Nevada desert, known for its focus on art installations, self-reliance, and symbolic burning of a huge wooden effigy, is held every year in early September. This year, however, the event degenerated into chaos when heavy rains pounded the desert all weekend, turning the sand into a muddy and unnavigable clay. What did that mean for festival goers? Since roads in and out of the desert were rendered impassable, about 70,000 people were stuck at the event.

@itsmechelsealeigh Its dumping rain here on the playa 😞😂🙏 isnt going to stop for…days? #burningman #theburn #rainingman #sendhelp #rain #storm #hurricane ♬ original sound – Chelsea Leigh

In what looks like a scene from Independence Day, the closed roads spawned what might be the worst gridlock you’ve ever seen. For days, tens of thousands of festival attendees were ordered to shelter in place, and to conserve food, water, and other provisions during the duration of the road closure. Since the event site is located about 15 miles from the nearest small town, and 110 miles from Reno, the nearest city, it’s not exactly a quick trip back to civilization. Some tried to make it back before the roads closed, but didn’t make it far, with many spinning out of control and blocking lanes.

@__tiktokdetective__ Burning Man Update for Sunday September 3rd. Its supposed to rain again today. Some people seem to be making the best of it while others are trying to leave eventhough they have told them to stay in place. Burners gonna have to figure it out #burningman2023 ♬ Quirky Suspenseful Indie-Comedy(1115050) – Kenji Ueda

Usually during the week of Burning Man, social media is inundated with photos of crazy art installations and revelers in elaborate costumes. This year, it’s all about the rain-induced turmoil.

@shoddylynn The playa isnt really providing this time… #burningman2023 ♬ Such a Whore (Baddest Remix) – JVLA


Burning Man has reportedly been declared a national disaster due to the rain and National Guard is on the way according to former RHOC friend of Dr Deb who is there!

♬ original sound – Kiki Monique

@ninja_natalie #BurningMan2023 ♬ this feeling – Øneheart

While many videos depict the seriousness of the situation – indeed, one person even died of undisclosed causes – some manage to inject humor into an otherwise humorless circumstance.

@hikingwithkoda #burningman2023 #fyp #burningman ♬ original sound – SpongeBob background music

Despite the chaos, people are leaning on each other to make the best of a bad situation. “People are taking care of each other,” attendee David Date told Reuters. “We have food. We have provisions. We have shelter. So it’s really kind of a group effort to get through this.”

And it appears they will. On Monday, festival organizers reopened the road leading out of the desert, allowing trapped partygoers to finally escape to safety. Many, however, chose to stay behind. As many as 64,000 people remained on site Monday night to watch the iconic burning of the giant effigy, which had been rescheduled from Sunday night to Monday.

What better way to show resilience, after all, than to fight rainwater with fire?

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