Three West Virginia University extension agents are in Chile but are unharmed following one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded.

Doug Hovatter (Berkeley County), Tina Cowger (Marion County) and Don Dransfield (Monroe County) arrived in Coyhaique, Patagonia, in southern Chile, Feb. 16 as part of an ongoing effort to establish a 4-H program there. Coyhaique is the capital city both of the Coyhaique Province and the AisÚn Region of Chile, which is hundreds of miles from the epicenter of Saturday’s magnitude-8.8 quake.

Ann Berry, Extension’s communication director, said WVU Extension representatives had made two previous trips to Coyhaique. Berry also reported that a 24-year-old Mercer County native who had been working with the WVU Extension 4-H agents, and the wife and son of a WVU faculty member who were traveling in Chile, all are safe.

Emma Faulkner, “grew up in WVU Extension’s 4-H program,” Berry said, and is staying in Chile for six months as part of the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program. Morgantown residents Roz Becker, the wife of Paul Becker, a faculty member in WVU Extension’s Safety and Health program, and Benny Becker, their son, were in Chile at the time of the earthquake but were not immediately affected by it, Berry said. Benny, a 2009 graduate of Morgantown High School, is in Chile on a Rotary exchange. His host family lives close to the epicenter of the quake, but Benny and Roz were traveling in southern Chile when the quake occurred.

“It’s good news for the University community during a time of sorrow and devastation for the Chileans,” Berry said. “Our agents are in good spirits, and we’re all grateful that all of our folks were not in harm’s way.”

Because many transportation routes in Chile were closed due to the earthquake, the three WVU Extension agents began their journey back today, traveling through Buenos Aires, and are expected to land at Dulles airport on Wednesday.

During the trip, the agents oversaw the first 4-H camp in Chile Feb. 22-26, Berry said.

“Doug Hovatter left me a message and said the camp was great and that the magic of 4-H is alive and well in Chile.”

The quake tore apart houses, bridges and highways in coastal and central Chile. Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a giant, and authorities estimate more than 700 people died.

The full extent of damage remained unclear as scores of aftershocks — one nearly as powerful as Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12 earthquake — shuddered across the disaster-prone Andean nation. Carmen Fernandez, director of the National Emergency Agency said hundreds of thousands of people had their houses damaged or destroyed.

WVU also planned a trip to Chile for a half-dozen students during spring break. University officials will re-evaluate that trip at a later date.

WVU’s Center for Civic Engagement is creating a link to donate to quake relief on its Web site and WVU officials, faculty and student groups will announce events and donation opportunities in the future.



CONTACT: Ann Bailey Berry