Olympics broadcasting center evacuated

No alarm sounded, no injuries reported

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BEIJING -- Hundreds were evacuated Wednesday from the massive building that will house broadcasting facilities for the Beijing Olympics, fearing there was a gas leak after people smelled a strong odor.

But authorities later said it was a false alarm and the smell came from paint fumes in the ventilation system.

Authorities told workers it was safe to go back in and there were no reports of injuries.

Firefighters went in along with at least one emergency worker dressed head-to-toe in an orange hazardous materials suit to investigate the odor, which was initially mistaken for a gas leak.

John Barton, the director of sport for the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, said he was in his office at the International Broadcast Center when people began running down the halls and telling occupants to clear out. He said no alarm sounded.

"Ladies were running up and down the corridors saying 'Get out of the building,'" he added. "I stepped out of my office and I thought it was some kind of joke -- no sirens, no speakers, nothing."

Barton and others at the scene reported what seemed to be a strong gas smell in the building before it was evacuated.

Beijing Olympic organizers said the odor came from paint that had been dumped in the drainage system, causing fumes to seep into the building's ventilation. "We've cleared away the smell by flushing the drainage," organizers said in a statement five hours after the evacuation.

The 970,000-square-foot building opened a few weeks ago and is a short walk north of the two iconic venues for the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games: the Bird's Nest National Stadium and the Water Cube swimming venue. It will house thousands of broadcasters when the games start.

The evacuation is sure to cause jitters among Chinese government officials, who have clamped down hard on security around the games and say openly that terrorism poses the largest threat to the games.

Fernando Pardo, head of sports for the European Broadcasting Union, said in a telephone interview from outside the building there was no public announcement about evacuation.

"They didn't tell us anything," said Pardo. "There was some guy shouting in the corridor and obviously we evacuated."

Wang Jue, a Beijing Olympic volunteer, said he was eating in the building when he was told to get out.

"I didn't hear any alarms go off, so no one thought it was a real evacuation," he said. "I thought it was either a joke or a test run."

Organizers, in their statement, promised a clear evacuation plan and written instructions for broadcasters in time for a planned fire drill on July 29.