Fire, police and Emergency Medical Services late Tuesday afternoon responded to a strong odor at the Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court.
The fire department got the call at 4:35 p.m. Three units and a Hazardous Materials team with 11 personnel responded.
But the food court had been evacuated before the fire personnel arrived.
Many complained of irritation to their respiratory system, difficulty swallowing and coughing, fire Capt. Scot Seguirant said.
Emergency Medical Services transported a 69-year-old man in serious condition to a hospital.
An Ala Moana Center customer service representative said a lot of people were in the food court at the time and had to evacuate.
The HazMat team used meters to try to determine what may have been discharged and where, Seguirant said.
Reports said it was on the west side of the food court.
Alex Ng, manager of Panda Express, said he and other employees evacuated and returned at about 5:45 p.m.
Because food had been sitting on the steam table for more than an hour, the food had to be thrown out due to the food quality and not because of any odor or chemical, he said.
“We actually didn’t smell anything,” Ng said, adding they simply complied when security instructed them to evacuate.
One worker at the Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Market said that she was told the odor might have been caused by someone spraying pepper spray in the portable air conditioning system.
Seguirant called that speculative, but acknowledged that every so often somone may pull a prank.
Ala Moana security declined to comment, deferring all questions to the center’s management during regular daytime business hours.