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Three scares clear out City Hall

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Half of San Francisco City Hall was evacuated Tuesday morning because of a trio of unusual, abandoned, but ultimately harmless objects that police suspected were bombs were found.

Approximately 7:10 a.m., the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department received word of a suspicious toolbox on McAllister Street.

The toolbox, along with a suitcase full of blankets found at Polk and Grove streets and a “medical device” found at Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue, all prompted law enforcement to evacuate part of City Hall and send in the police bomb squad, according to the Sheriff’s Department and the Police Department.

“It [the toolbox] was sitting there by itself,” Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said. “You’ve heard at the airport, ‘do not leave your baggage unattended.’ It appeared to be abandoned.”

By 8:15 a.m., deputy sheriffs cleared the half of the building closest to McAllister Street, including a day care center operating in the basement. They ordered people in the other half to take shelter while remaining in the building. Occupants of Superior Court Civic Center Courthouse at 400 McAllister St. were also told to take shelter in place. The streets surrounding City Hall were closed to traffic.

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The bomb squad declared all three objects harmless, and City Hall and the surrounding streets were opened shortly after 10 a.m.

Bomb scares and evacuations due to suspicious packages have become common events since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, San Francisco Police Department spokewoman Maria Oropeza said. Neither the police nor Sheriff’s Department provided the number of officers dispatched or put a price tag on the incident.

“It’s most important to be careful than to have something happen and cause injury,” police Chief Heather Fong said. “Once something explodes, if we didn’t do everything we could to prevent it, then that criticism would be leveled at us.”

The disruption affected meetings of the departments of Elections and Public Works, and kept 18-year-old newlyweds Phillip and Jessa Germono of Union City waiting a little past the appointed time to say their vows. They didn’t mind.

“The wait was mainly at the door, because there was the search and the metal detectors,” Jessa Germono said. “They wouldn’t let us in the main entrance.”

City Hall habitués were equally nonchalant.

“It was a hell of a nice morning to be locked out of work,” said David Owen, aid to Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “This happens every six months or so.”

kwilliamson@examiner.com Staff writers Bonnie Eslinger and Adam Martin contributed to this report.

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