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In Netherlands flood, horses cling to life and dry ground

AMSTERDAM -- Rescue workers struggled yesterday to save a herd of 100 horses stranded for days on a tiny knoll after a fierce storm turned their pasture into an angry sea.

Eighteen horses have drowned, and the rest have spent two nights huddled together in knee-deep water. Rescuers planned to bring in horses that are strong swimmers, hoping to show the panicky animals, including several foals, how to get to dry land.

Dutch television and newspapers carried dramatic photographs and footage of the horses crowded together, their backs to the wind, on a small patch of ground. They were surrounded by brackish seawater, pushed by the storm surge into a wilderness area outside the dikes of Marrum, 90 miles northeast of Amsterdam.

Marrum's fire department used small boats to ferry about 20 horses, including the smallest foals, to safety on Wednesday.

The Dutch Army tried to rescue the rest of the herd, but called off the operation when water levels receded to less than 3 feet in some places, grounding pontoon boats.

Mayor Wil van der Berg said he considered using helicopters to transport the animals, but decided the noise and lights might panic the horses and cause more to drown.

Although horses can swim and the closest dry land was only several hundred yards away, there were concerns the animals could become ensnared in submerged barbed wire fences or that they might tire if they headed toward land farther away.

Water levels continued to fall yesterday, and the surviving animals were brought feed and blankets by boat. Veterinarians examined them, the Netherlands' state broadcaster NOS reported.

Since the remaining horses were in good health, officials decided to leave then on the knoll overnight. Other horses that are strong swimmers were to be brought in today to try to lead them to safety.

" A few animals are in the water, but only up to their ankles and they can hold out another 24 hours," veterinarian Marten de Vries was quoted as saying in the Friesch Dagblad daily after he examined the horses. "There are still a few foals among them, but they're dry."

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