Updated Sep 5, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Police identify man who died Friday as Burning Man "exodus" continues

People take down a structure at Burning Man. Disco balls are in the foreground on the desert floor.

Burning Man attendees strike down their camp before new rain falls on Sept. 3. Photo: Julie Jammot/Getty Images

Hundreds of Burning Man attendees continued to leave Nevada's Black Rock Desert Tuesday after extreme flooding left them stranded for days — but there's an hours-long wait to depart, festival officials said.

Driving the news: Heavy rains in the usually dry Black Rock Desert prompted shelter-in-place orders at the annual camp-out that attracted some 70,000 people on Saturday evening.

State of play: "Exodus operations have officially begun in Black Rock City" as of 2pm local time, festival organizers said Monday after the driving ban was lifted.

  • "If you are able to wait to exit until after the man burns, save yourself the long wait," per an online post that linked to a livestream of the burning of the totem that marks the culmination of the festival. The burn was postponed from its usual Saturday night due to the storm.
  • Satellite images captured hundreds of vehicles in a traffic jam as they began departing after the driving ban lifted on Monday.
  • By Tuesday morning, the wait time was roughly five hours.
Satellite imagery showing a traffic jam as vehicles begin departing the Burning Man festival in Nevada on Monday.
Satellite imagery showing a traffic jam as vehicles begin departing the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock desert on Monday. Satellite image: ©2023 Maxar Technologies

Of note: At least one person died at the event, who authorities have now identified as 32-year-old Leon Reece.

  • Local police said the "unusual rain event" delayed their investigation into the death, which is ongoing.
  • The Pershing County Sheriff's Office said they had received a call Friday about an unresponsive festival-goer, who was receiving CPR from medical staff.
  • The festival's doctor pronounced Reece dead before county officials arrived.
  • "Pershing County Sheriff's Office Deputies performed a preliminary investigation of the immediate area. After interviewing witnesses at the scene as well as medical responders, no immediate cause of death could be determined," Sheriff Jerry Allen said in a statement shared with Axios.

Context: The desert saw two to three months' worth of rain within 24 hours, according to event officials, which halted all vehicle movement.

  • The arid ground was unable to absorb water without creating runoff and mudflows from the rainfall, caused by moisture from the Southwest monsoon.

Catch up fast: Black Rock City, a makeshift town created annually for the event, is located 120 miles from the nearest airport.

  • Until internet stations were set up in certain locations, festival attendees were without cellphone service. Amid the flooding, they were told to conserve food, fuel and water.

Burning Man is a "community and global cultural movement," without booked acts or scheduled entertainment, according to its website.

  • The event resumed in 2022 after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus.
  • This year's dates were set to be Aug. 27 to Sept. 4, but some events were pushed to Sept. 5 in response to the flooding.

Go deeper: What we know about the flooding at Burning Man

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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