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American Samoa’s Tsunami Drowns StarKist Power Plant

The two tuna cannery plants sit right next to each other in long, white rectangular buildings along a narrow waterfront in Pago Pago Harbor's small industrial zone.

The tsunamis largely spared both plants even though they destroyed dozens of buildings across the harbor. They did, however, drown the power plant that feeds electricity to StarKist, knocking the plant out of service.

To cope, StarKist is shipping 10 generators to Pago Pago from Los Angeles that will supply the plant with electricity until the local power plant is rebuilt. The plant should be fully operational by the sixth or seventh week after the tsunami, said Binotto, who flew into American Samoa a few days after the tsunami to assess the damage.

In the meantime, StarKist is storing 4,000 tons, or $13 million worth of tuna, in freezers run on generators.

StarKist says the disruption to production won't affect the supply of tuna on store shelves. The company has an eight-week supply already in the U.S. and a few more weeks worth currently in containers heading for the U.S.

The tsunami has meant a double disaster for StarKist employees like Fuauli Atisano'e.

The tsunamis wrecked the 38-year-old's home, as well as his parents' home next door, in the small coastal village of Tula. Their concrete walls are standing, but their floors are caked with silt and their windows are blown out.

A water-logged coconut, metal mattress frame and sewing machine are strewn around one of their rooms.

"See that car inside the trees," Atisano'e said, "that's my car."

The father of three hasn't heard yet when he'll be returning to work.

The governor last month proposed that the territorial government buy Chicken of the Sea's COS Samoa Packing plant to keep it open. A committee of territorial lawmakers was due to hold a hearing on the measure the day the tsunami hit, but had to postpone their deliberations because of the disaster.

Chicken of the Sea says it plans to use Samoa Packing as a cold storage facility for fish caught in the Pacific.

On a recent morning, maintenance workers dismantling the tuna packing and sealing machines were among the few remaining employees on site. They were preparing the equipment so it can be shipped to Chicken of the Sea's new packing plant in Lyons, Ga.

"We're still working for two or three more weeks. We're moving all the stuff," said Fotu Matola, 38, as he took a break with co-workers in front of a convenience store across the street from the plant.

Del Monte last year sold StarKist, and the rest of its seafood business, to Dongwon Enterprise Co. of South Korea.