The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has responded to unfounded claims circulating online that it had been deployed to the Burning Man festival after floodwaters temporarily prevented thousands of attendees leaving the site in the Nevada desert.
Wild theories of an outbreak of Ebola and instances of cannibalism have found a wide audience on social media after one person died in the freak event caused by the remnants of a powerful storm. Local police have not disclosed the nature of the death and said that investigations were ongoing.
Festivalgoers were told on Monday it was safe to leave the site, after the flooding turned the usually dusty Black Rock Desert playa into soft mud, limiting vehicle movement. A slow exodus of an estimated 70,000 attendees began the same afternoon.
While revelers had been told to “shelter in place,” claims surfaced online that the incident had been declared a national disaster, that the flooding was somehow a cover story for the virus outbreak at the camp, and that a fence had been erected around the site as a quarantine measure.
“There have been no requests for FEMA assistance or resources from local or state authorities related to Burning Man,” David Passey, a spokesperson for the federal disaster agency’s regional office, told Newsweek. “Therefore, there are no FEMA personnel or teams responding.”
He added that staff “continue to monitor weather and weather-related impacts as we do across our region every day.”
Both the festival organizers and clinicians who had been at Burning Man denied any viral outbreak—let alone one attributed to Ebola, the last recorded outbreak of which in the U.S. occurred in 2014.
“The online rumors of transmissible illnesses in Black Rock City [the Burning Man festival site] are unfounded and untrue,” the Burning Man Project wrote in an update on Sunday.
“There’s no Ebola cases here,” Jenna Roxbury, a nurse and Burning Man attendee, informed her nearly 700,000 TikTok followers on Sunday. “I’m hearing all sorts of rumors [about what] is going on with us here. We’re doing our best, we’re Burners, we’re hunkering down.”
“FEMA is not here, there is not a fence going up around the perimeter,” Roxbury added. “We’re still just seeing here on the playa, at the hospital, broken bones, UTIs, some strep throat—the usual.”
Some festivalgoers opted to leave despite the muddy conditions, including some who hiked their way to the nearest highway. On Monday, when queues to leave the site were estimated to be over five hours long, the organizers suggested “hanging out” for longer until the backlog had cleared.