ASSATEAGUE ISLAND -- Major repairs to the storm-ravaged state and federal seashore parks south of Ocean City have been delayed until divers can determine what effect Saturday morning's powerful Atlantic northeaster had on the Verrazano Bridge linking the mainland to the barrier island.
Although state Department of Natural Resources officials had closed the bridge and island to visitors Saturday so they could inspect the beach, repairs that were to have begun yesterday were stopped suddenly when state inspectors discovered that storm-propelled water rushing beneath the bridge had eroded the riverbed and exposed previously buried portions of the bridge supports.
Park employees examining the beach damage were restricted to crossing the bridge in light vehicles -- one at a time -- and heavy construction equipment that was en route to the island was turned back.
Several other pieces of heavy equipment already on the island were left stranded.
"The equipment we have over there is trapped until further notice," said Kevin Farley, a DNR park spokesman.
Divers inspected the Verrazano Bridge today, as well as three other bridges leading to the Maryland coast. A report on the inspection was being released this afternoon.
State Highway Administration spokeswoman Diane Levero said the impromptu weight restrictions on the Verrazano Bridge were a DNR decision and that highway officials have not yet ruled whether the bridge is unsafe for heavy vehicles.
The arched bridge, which was opened in 1964 and has a clearance of 35 feet, is the sole link by land to the upper portion of the popular island park and refuge.
Portions of both the state and federal seaside parks were heavily damaged during Saturday's brief but powerful storm. Three days after the storm had hit, many park roadways and beach areas remained covered in water.
The northern end of the island was hit by winds exceeding 70 mph and a 5-foot wall of seawater rolled furiously across the narrow flat sands, pushing everything before it, including a number of the wild ponies that attract thousands of tourists to the parks annually.
"They couldn't move south quickly enough to higher ground," said Larry G. Points, chief interpreter for the federally owned Assateague Island National Seashore.
So far, park officials have tallied the loss of 10 ponies and a smaller number of deer that live on the island. Most of the carcasses were tossed onto the mainland shore where they were discovered by park officials and farmers.
Points said the ponies were buried beneath the sand on the north end of the island. He said the loss will not greatly affect the overall pony population -- which numbers about 140 -- but the deaths will hamper efforts to study the effects of a birth control program designed to keep the number of ponies below 150.
"A lot of these horses were important scientifically," he said.
Throughout the park, remnants of the storm were evident yesterday. Asphalt parking lots and roads were ripped apart in some places, a ranger kiosk was knocked on its side and pieces of what used to be picnic benches were scattered yards away into thickets of bayberry bushes.
Park Superintendent Roger K. Rector said the extent of the damage and cost of repairs may not be known until next week.
While concerns about the Verrazano Bridge halted beach work at the parks, residents of the nearby waterfront communities of Frontier Town and Snug Harbor were busy gathering up what remained of their trailers, homes and boats.
Before it rushed back into Sinepuxent Bay, a temporary lake 4 feet deep covered Frontier Town immediately after the storm hit, said Mitch Parker, a co-owner of the camp grounds and trailer park.
Trailers that were securely on land before the storm now lie in the water. Boats that were in the water now rest high and dry on land. Trees were uprooted when a storm surge about 8 feet high struck the shore.
Parker estimated that of the 170 trailers in the summer resort, 50 were destroyed by the storm. Damage to the trailers and boats has been estimated at nearly $2 million, he said. The storm also left behind another $250,000 to $500,000 in damage to the resort itself.
A half-mile up the road, Raymond W. Hallman sorted through the junk pile that until Saturday morning was an orderly ground-level machine shop beneath his Snug Harbor home.
Hallman said he slept through the storm until he was awakened by his wife.
"It scared the heck out of us," he said. The storm pummeled the little community, shifting some houses off their foundations and rocking those that were built upon pilings.
Hallman said he will stay at a friend's home until utilities can be restored to the area. Having lived through the 1962 storm that walloped Ocean City, Hallman said he is no stranger to nature's violence, particularly along the Atlantic coast.
"We knew that when we moved here," said the 81-year-old with a shrug.