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4,000 visitors to visit stricken Pago Pago this weekend

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Oct. 6, 2009) - Despite last week’s earthquake and tsunami, some 4,000 visitors are still scheduled to arrive this weekend in American Samoa on board two cruise ships-- the American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau says the territory is still open for business.

Department of Commerce said yesterday they received clearance and confirmation from the territorial government’s Port Administration for the two vessels to arrive in the territory.

Officials say there was no major damage to the harbor during the Sept. 29 tsunami, although two surges from the tsunami washed over the main dock and onto the main highway in the downtown area of Fagatogo village.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the Sun Princess cruise ship will arrive in Pago Pago followed on Saturday, Oct. 10 by the Pacific Princess. Each cruise ship is bringing about 2,000 passengers and crew and will each be in the territory for 8-hours.

DOC is holding a special meeting tomorrow, Oct. 7 with cruise ship vendors at the DOC branch office in Tafuna to discuss issues regarding the cruise ships.

Ground tour operator Betty Cavanaugh, owner of Pago Pago Tradewinds Tours, said yesterday there are no changes to the regular tours the company provides.

The tours cover, among other things, village life and cultural tours including traditional umu (or ground oven), said Cavanaugh.

"There will be passengers taking the tours while others will be walking around the town area, looking at the devastation," said Cavanaugh, adding that the ground tours do not involve the villages devastated by the earthquake.

"We will provide the tours as usual and we are pleased to welcome visitors to the territory despite the devastation," said Cavanaugh, who is hosting later this week three scientists from the Japanese Earthquake Research Group.

"I’m hosting the visiting scientists at my home because there is no room available at any of the local hotels," she said.

Sources in the industry say the hotel/motel accommodations are fully booked with off-island people, which include federal emergency personnel, private organizations and journalists.

American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau chief executive officer David Vaeafe said yesterday that all local accommodations are in operation and there were no major reports of damage except for debris along shoreline hotels.

Vaeafe said there was an inquiry from a New Zealand tour operator seeking the status of local accommodations and "I informed the tour wholesaler that all facilities are operational."

"American Samoa is still open for business and we welcome everyone," said Vaeafe. "The only real damage in terms of tourist related facilities is the National Park of American Samoa, and this is a major loss for visitors to the territory who want to look at our history and witness some of our local traditions."

The National Park Service of American Samoa announced over the weekend that its facility in Pago Pago located on the ground floor of the Pago Plaza was hit by waves.

Water rushed through the first floor of the building, destroying contents and washing away visitor center exhibits and irreplaceable artifacts. (See separate press release story for more information).

"We haven’t been able to assess the actual condition of the park," National Park Service spokeswoman Patti Wold is quoted by The Associated Press.

The Commerce Department said another cruise ship is scheduled to arrive on Oct. 17. This is the cruise ship season for American Samoa which runs from mid August to April each year.

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