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One death reported at Burning Man, thousands stranded in mud

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By Rich McKay

(Reuters) -Nevada authorities on Sunday said they were investigating one death after a severe rainstorm left tens of thousands of revelers attending the annual Burning Man festival stranded in mud, and asked that they shelter in place and conserve food and water.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in northern Nevada said in a statement that the death happened during a “rain event” on Saturday but did not provide details of the cause of death or the person’s identity.

“The family has been notified and the death is under investigation,” the sheriff’s office said.

Access to and from Black Rock City, the event site about 110 miles (180 km) north of Reno, was closed “for the remainder of the event,” organizers said in a statement on social media.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said the entrance to Burning Man had been closed due to flooding and anyone trying to get in “will be turned away.”

More than 60,000 participants travel to and from the remote area in northwest Nevada every year, according to the event’s website, gathering in the temporary city to make art, dance, and enjoy community at a cost of $575 per person for a regular ticket. Local media reported there were around 73,000 “burners” in Black Rock City.

The counter-culture festival, which was scheduled to run from Aug. 27 until Sept. 4, will continue in a limited fashion, weather permitting, organizers said online.

The festival gets its name from its culminating event, the burning of a large wooden structure called the Man on the penultimate night. The fire will be attempted on Sunday night, organizers said.

Videos shared on social media showed festival-goers wading ankle deep in thick mud. The site is in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, a large, flat, ancient lake bed known as a playa.

“Rain over the last 24 hours has created a situation that required a full stop of vehicle movement on the playa,” the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages the land on which the event takes place, said in a statement on Saturday. “More rain is expected over the next few days and conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow vehicles to enter the playa.”

The National Weather Service said on Sunday that scattered and sometimes heavy rain showers were expected through the afternoon and overnight.

Some decided to leave the site early, walking approximately 5 miles (8 km) through the mud to the nearest highway, where the organizers were offering shuttle buses to Reno. People were advised not to walk at night.

No details were available on how many had decided to leave. Attendee Paul Reder told Reuters on Sunday that he knew of a few who had trudged out to the highway or defied officials and driven out. Those that remained were helping each other out by sharing food and water, he said.

“Everyone here seems in really good spirits,” said Reder, who has been going to the event for 22 years.

“There’s a general sense that this is going to end soon, the gates will open and we’ll all be on our way home.”

Reder said that despite the challenges he would not hesitate to return next year.

The gathering originated as a small function in 1986 on a San Francisco beach and is now also attended by celebrities and social media influencers.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Deborah Gembara in Washington; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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