Television Station KTHV

SEARCY — Thirty-three Harding students are still scheduled to travel to Chile on Tuesday, less than a week after a massive earthquake struck the South American country.

Students say they are still enthusiastic about the trip. Now, on top of a rigorous study load, they want to spend their extra time volunteering to rebuild and help families struggling after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

Dean of International Programs Jeffrey Hopper will join them in April. He says he wouldn’t let the students go if he thought they would be at risk.

Harding students and faculty woke up Saturday to phone calls and e-mails about one of the strongest earthquakes in more than a century.

Gabriella Marcellini, a junior at Harding, spent time at Harding’s campus in Vina del Mar in 2008.

"It was hard to recognize some buildings" after the quake struck, she said. "It’s difficult to watch the footage and see the country, I feel like it’s (Chile) is a part of me now, so it was hard."

The earthquake and the aftershocks that followed brought down buildings and bridges, and have affected power, water and lines of communication.

Hopper says the faculty and campus at Vina del Mar are OK, and students will be safe when they arrive.

"We have 33 students who are planning to go, providing the airport is open in Santiago," he said.

"Chile has had earthquakes for centuries and many of the structures ... that are built there now are fairly earthquake proof. I can say to any parent that we will never put there son or daughter in harm’s way," Hopper said.

Hopper expects the students will take the initiative and help with the recovery efforts.

Spencer May, a Harding sophomore, is glad the group hadn’t already arrived at the school’s Chilean campus. He said he has his family’s blessing to continue with plans to go to Chile for three months.

"I know it’s going to be tough with doing school over there as well, but I really would like to help out some while being over there if I have the opportunity to do it," May said.