By  on August 22, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — An underground explosion and fire that erupted in the downtown retail shopping district minutes before the start of business Friday injured a pedestrian and damaged a Polo Ralph Lauren store.

The force of the blast at Post and Kearney Streets sent a manhole cover flying and blew out the windows of the Polo store 10 minutes before it and dozens of neighboring merchants were to open at 10 a.m. No other stores were reported damaged. The victim was hospitalized in critical condition with burns to her face and neck.

Amid initial fears of terrorism, police, briefly joined by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, cordoned off several blocks until early afternoon. The nearby heart of San Francisco retailing, Union Square, was closed to cars until early afternoon, but remained open to pedestrians.

A Ralph Lauren spokeswoman said there were no injuries reported among employees. "Our store suffered damage, but we do not have a report yet as to the extent," she said.

Pacific Gas & Electric workers at the scene speculated that the explosion may have stemmed from an underground electrical transformer.

The Polo store is part of a two-story upscale shopping mall, Crocker Galleria, covering a city block, which was closed until about 1 p.m.

"We were shut down for three hours," said Lucie Huynh, manager of Aricie Lingerie de Marque, located in the mall, who said she was uncertain about the effect on sales.

Two blocks away on Grant Avenue, the Banana Republic flagship was closed for 30 minutes after the explosion. There was no impact on business, said a spokeswoman for parent company Gap Inc.

However, a Gap store on Post Street, closer to the explosion, remained shut into the afternoon, along with other retailers such as Talbots and Max Mara.

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