updated 7/23/2008 3:01:29 PM ET 2008-07-23T19:01:29

The massive building that will house thousands of world broadcasters when the Beijing Olympics open in just over two weeks was evacuated Wednesday when a strong odor spread throughout structure.

The 90,000 square-meter (970,000 square feet) building was opened a few weeks ago and sits just a short walk north of the two iconic venues for the Beijing Games: the Bird's Nest National Stadium and the Water Cube, the venue for swimming.

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

Beijing Olympic organizers said the odor came from paint that had been dumped in the drainage system and whose smell seeped 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.

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 telling occupants to get out. He said no alarm sounded and there were no immediate reports of injuries but some suspected a gas leak.

"The gas (odor) was swirling down the corridor and the emergency drill, if there is one, wasn't followed," Barton said. "Ladies were running up and down the corridors saying get out of the building."

"I stepped out of my office and I though it was some kind of joke — no sirens, no speakers, nothing."

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.

Sun Weijia, head of media operations for the organizing committee, said he was in the building earlier in the day but was unaware of the incident.

Fernando Pardo, another top broadcasting official speaking in a telephone interview from outside the building, said there was no public announcement about evacuation.

"They didn't tell us anything," said Pardo, head of sports for the European Broadcasting Union. "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. He said he did not smell gas.

"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.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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