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Thousands of Burning Man attendees are stranded in the Nevada desert


Authorities are investigating a death at the Burning Man festival in the remote Nevada desert. Tens of thousands are stuck there because of heavy rainfall that's turned the site into a mud bath. People are being told to ration food and water. Anya Kamenetz is at Burning Man and joins us now from Black Rock City, Nev. Welcome to the program.


RASCOE: It sounds pretty messy and sort of dicey. Like, what's it like there?

KAMENETZ: Well, you know, not everyone here has Wi-Fi like we do. So communications moves slowly across the desert. It started raining around 1 o'clock Friday, and it was about eight hours in before it really dawned on us that this is going to be a really serious situation.

RASCOE: So what are authorities saying about how long you all might be stuck there?

KAMENETZ: Basically, we were forecasted to get rain overnight, which we did but just a little tiny bit. So now the clock kind of starts on drying out the roads to start to get people out of here. And the update posted by the organization says that it's going to be - you know, Monday night would be - or Monday late in the day is an optimistic start. The thing is, Ayesha, that it can take 12 hours in line on a good day to get out of Burning Man. And now you have the entire city trying to leave at once. So unless they, you know, implement some kind of dismissing the city by sector, it's going to be really, really hairy getting out.

RASCOE: And so how are people coping? Do they have enough supplies? Is there enough food and water? And what about, like, the bathroom situation?

KAMENETZ: Well, the term apoocalypse (ph) has been bandied about.

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness.

KAMENETZ: Basically, port-a-potty service obviously stopped on Friday. I would say people come to Burning Man because they want to contend with the elements and deal with survival and cooperation, and they're getting a lot of chances to do that here. Most people who came, you know, planned on having food and water and extras. The lack of port-a-potty service means that it's only solid waste in there. And, you know, at my camp in particular, on Saturday morning, we said, like, no more showers. No more dishwashing. Water is just for drinking. We're pooling all our food as far as resources. And I would say honestly, walking around the city, spirits are pretty high.

RASCOE: You know, that's incredible to hear. I don't know if I would be that chipper. But how is this weather event playing into discussions about the environment and climate, which I gather there was a focus at the beginning of the festival. There was maybe some protesters. So what are people saying about that?

KAMENETZ: Yeah, that's pretty serious. So, you know, last year, the event had triple-digit temperatures that were quite dangerous. This year, there was a blockade by climate protesters on Monday. They wanted Burning Man to ban single-use plastics and private jet travel into and out of the event. And this year's rain, which is unprecedented, has a lot of people questioning, you know, is it really still such a good idea to bring so many people out here to this incredibly fragile and extreme, kind of - and harsh environment?

RASCOE: That's Anya Kamenetz at Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nev. Thank you so much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you, Ayesha.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.