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Answers Sought in San Francisco Explosion

From Associated Press

A 40-year-old woman burned in the fiery explosion that shook a downtown shopping district remained hospitalized Saturday in critical but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Pacific Gas & Electric officials, meanwhile, were trying to pinpoint the cause of Friday’s blast in an underground electrical transformer outside the Crocker Galleria mall. No other people were injured, but the explosion shattered windows at a Polo Ralph Lauren clothing store, authorities said.

After meeting with PG&E; representatives, Mayor Gavin Newsom publicly demanded ramped up inspections and more accountability from the city’s utility company.

Newsom said he wanted the company to begin inspecting every electrical vault in the city.

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“Enough is enough.... There will be accountability,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not good enough to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ They need to take this very seriously.”

PG&E; said Saturday that it would begin inspecting other vaults for problems. The company maintains underground equipment in more than 500 vaults in San Francisco.

“We are going to bring in an independent, outside expert to investigate why this transformer equipment failed and determine what that means for the equipment in the other underground vaults we have in San Francisco, and throughout Northern and Central California,” Gordon R. Smith, president and chief executive of PG&E;, said in a statement Saturday.

Newsom called the explosion part of a string of PG&E; accidents that have caused problems for the city in the last couple of years.

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He questioned the company’s reliability in March after a fire at a substation at Eighth and Mission streets knocked out power to 22,000 customers. A fire at the same substation left more than 100,000 residents and stores without power the weekend before Christmas in 2003.

PG&E; officials said that such transformers, which change electricity from one voltage to another, have a life expectancy of 40 years, and that under state law the utility is required to inspect them annually.

PG&E; spokesman Paul Moreno said the transformer in Friday’s blast was inspected within the last year, although he did not know the exact date.

The victim, who has not been identified, was burned on her head and neck, and was being treated in the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital.

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