Crews at work after Tenderloin explosion

June 6, 2009 6:43:21 PM PDT
Investigators still do not know what sparked an underground vault fire that caused big problems Friday in downtown San Francisco. Tall flames and thick smoke shot out of a manhole cover shortly after the blast.

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On Saturday crews were still working to get power restored to hundreds of residents.

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Early Saturday there were around 550 people left without power and by 5:00 p.m. that number had shrunk to 300. Still, it was a far cry from the 8600 customers that were without power Friday when the explosion occured.

The outage continued to affecte buildings like one senior housing complex in the area with 110 units. Residents on the upper floors with no electricty are unable to navigate stairs without an elevator.

Dozens of Red Cross and community volunteers delivered sandwiches and smiles to reassure seniors who are still stuck with no electricity.

"We were able to get flashlights to everybody last night. We were able to go door to door, make wellness checks. We have people with some serious medical issues, people that need to get out for kidney dialysis," said Lutheran Social Services Director Nancy Nielsen.

Residences, hotels, stores and theaters were still in the dark Saturday as PG&E crews descended into nearby vaults for inspections. But the site of Friday's explosion, a vault at Polk and O'Farrell, was still cordoned off, streets closed to pedestrians and traffic.

"We are working to ensure that the structural integrity of the vault is intact and that our crews are able to get in the vault and make necessary assessments and determinations and begin that investigation," explained PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt.

PG&E is still not certain why the 12-foot by 9-foot underground vault filled with cables and switches suddenly exploded Friday morning. Black smoke billowed from the manhole and flames shot 20 feet in the air. 8,600 customers lost power, stranding some in elevators for hours, including Laura Rogers and her dog Ziggy.

"Got caught in between the 2nd and 3rd floor. There's like this much room to get through. I couldn't get through there, but they got the dog out and they took me out through the roof of the elevator," she told ABC7.

PG&E has a history of vault fires, mainly in San Francisco. They say they have fewer than other utility companies. But, more frequent maintenance of hundreds of underground vaults in the city did not prevent Friday's fire and explosion.

Investigators are still assessing the safety of sending a crew into the vault. They did go down into one a few blocks away from the site of the explosion. Officials said power could be fully restored sometime Saturday evening or Sunday.

PG&E has, in the past, reimbursed businesses that have lost power for extended periods of time. Businesses can contact PG&E for details at 1-800-PGE-5000.

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