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At Burning Man, storms keep festivalgoers stranded in the mud


Torrential rains put a serious damper on the Burning Man festival this year. Tens of thousands of revelers are stranded in the Nevada desert after heavy rainfall turned the annual week-long arts and countercultural event into a mud fest. Authorities are also confirming one death, which is under investigation.


It's Daniel Vandenbark's second Burning Man. And he says unexpected weather is just part of the experience.

DANIEL VANDENBARK: I was here for the crazy heat, and now I'm here for the crazy rain, wind and mud.

ESTRIN: Vandenbark, who's from Los Angeles, compared the wet soil in the Nevada desert to mixing concrete.

VANDENBARK: It starts to get wet, and it just gets sticky. It's a really unique experience. It sticks to your shoes. It sticks to your feet. It's very difficult to get off. You can't ride a bike on it. You can't really drive on it. It just - whatever it touches, it sticks on.

FADEL: The festival grounds were hit by over half an inch of rain on Friday night. Organizers closed access into and out of the temporary site for the remainder of the event, which officially ends today.


ESTRIN: Twenty-nine-year-old Mimi Do from Los Angeles was pitching in by frying up some bacon.

MIMI DO: Seeing everybody kind of, like, doing something, I was like, well, I'm not going to be in my tent all day and just, like, you know, mope around. So I decided to just, like, yeah, make some food. It really encouraged me to, like - you know what? - like, let's be a part of this and help everyone out.

ESTRIN: And even though her first Burning Man didn't exactly turn out as she hoped, Do is certain that she will be back.

DO: I love the people here. I love the community.

FADEL: It's the third burning man for Denver resident Gordon Graham. He agrees the festival's sense of community sets it apart.

GORDON GRAHAM: I was not alerted of the rain. That was not in the brochure. But helping out your neighbors and being here for everybody, that was in the brochure. We know that. And I think everyone's really able to do that and excited to do that.

ESTRIN: For 52-year-old Zaki Rubenstein, the whole situation is really a metaphor for life.

ZAKI RUBENSTEIN: There are unexpected events, and you have to figure out how to navigate them and roll with it.

ESTRIN: The first-time attendee said being stuck in the desert will make her grateful for the little things.

RUBENSTEIN: Well, I'm really, really going to appreciate bathrooms - and mine in particular. You know, when you live without them, you realize, oh, modern plumbing, that is a marvel.

FADEL: Yeah, this is why I don't camp.

ESTRIN: (Laughter).

FADEL: With more rain and thunderstorms drenching the festival area yesterday, organizers have asked attendees to conserve water and food and shelter in place for now. But there is one sliver of good news. A social media account associated with the Burning Man Project's website says the traditional climax of the festival, the burning of a giant man-like structure, will happen tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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