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Official: Island ponies believed to be safe

Tuesday - 10/30/2012, 2:44pm  ET

By STEVE SZKOTAK
Associated Press

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. - Chincoteague's most celebrated summer visitors _ the wild ponies of Assateague Island _ apparently weathered Superstorm Sandy.

Fire Chief Harry Thornton planned to check on the rugged ponies later Tuesday, but he said all indications are the herd of approximately 130 animals found shelter on the barrier island during Sandy's onslaught Sunday and Monday.

Thornton said the refuge manager on Assateague told him there was no sign of the ponies, meaning they likely were still hunkered down in sheltered areas of the 37-mile-long island. They typically head to higher ground during tidal surges, he said.

"They're smarter than most people sometimes," Thornton said. "They kind of got a mind of their own. They know where they need to go."

The last time ponies died in a storm was the Ash Wednesday nor'easter that pummeled Assateague and Chincoteague 50 years ago.

Every July, the ponies make their annual crossing of the 200-yard channel between Assateague Island in Maryland and Chincoteague. The spectacle, made famous by Marguerite Henry's 1947 novel "Misty of Chincoteague," attracts up to 40,000 visitors to Chincoteague.

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company cares for the herd.

Chincoteague was bracing for a repeat of the '62 nor'easter with Sandy but escaped with flooding, widespread downed trees and generally a mess for its 3,500 residents to clean up. The causeway linking the island and the mainland was reopened, and a curfew intended to keep islanders in their homes during the storm was lifted at noon Tuesday. Many ignored the curfew and were patrolling the island to inspect the damage early Tuesday.

"We fared well," Thornton said, noting that Assateague blocks some of the wind and waves.

"If it wasn't for that, I don't think Chincoteague would be here right now," Thornton said.

Not everyone on the island escaped.

Glenn Heartley's silver sedan sat off a busy road in water nearly up to its door handles. He and his wife, Gail, ended up in the water during a trip for supplies before the storm arrived when the car hydroplaned on flood waters. They escaped uninjured through the sunroof.

"She tried to turn around on the road and it just floated away," said Heartley, 48, his blue jeans soaked after attaching a rope to the front end for an SUV to pull the car out, which it did amid cheers from bystanders.

A quarter-mile from the annual pony swim, Bob Cherrix was scooping up pine boughs that scattered on his front lawn, leaving it looking like a shag carpet. His neighbor wasn't so lucky: An 80-foot pine cleaved his ranch house. The seasonal owners weren't home.

"We did all right," Cherrix said as utility crews cut up downed trees along the streets. "We had a lot of pine cones hitting the roof. Didn't have any trees come down. It could have been a lot worse."

Bryan Rush, Chincoteague's emergency planning coordinator, said one resident suffered a minor injury during the storm.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)