Oahu man recovers after unknown substance hits busy food court

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The busiest food court in the state had to be evacuated Tuesday after customers were suddenly coughing and gagging. We spoke to one man who had to go to the hospital. 69-year-old Steven Yamase was transported in serious condition and is now recovering at home.

He said he was doing some paperwork at the food court when something in the air struck out of nowhere. Steven Yamase tells us first his eyes burned then he started to cough.

“I was scared. I said wow I’m getting a hard time breathing. This is not good. I started choking and I couldn’t catch my breath fast enough I was coughing so much,” said Yamase.

Yamase says he was sitting near the center of food court fronting Sbarro. He said there were most likely 200 to 300 people in the food court at the time.

“It looked like it came out of the ventilation system because the whole food court people were choking,” he said.

When he went to the ambulance, Yamase says two security guards were also being treated.

“They were sweating. Their eyes were red, tears coming out,” said Yamase. “I think they probably got it worse than me because they were in there longer than me because they were trying to get everybody out.”

Honolulu Fire officials tell us the Hazmat team responded to a possible chemical odor alarm but could not finding anything at the scene. We learned Honolulu Police have opened a case, classifying it as criminal use of noxious substance.

Yamase said the incident reminded him of the time when he was in the army they went through chlorine gas chambers as part of their training.

“Kind of feeling like that but not as bad as the chlorine chamber that we went through,” he said. “It was scary. It was scary to have something like this happen at Ala Moana Center food court.”

HPD says no arrests have been made at this time. In a statement Ala Moana Center tells us:

“The health and welfare of our customers are of the utmost importance and one that Ala Moana Center takes very seriously. Upon reports of an odor, the Ala Moana Center security team immediately evacuated the Makai Market Food Court. We fully cooperated with the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) and the HFD hazmat response team on their investigation. Following their investigation, it was determined that it was safe to reopen. The source or nature of the odor was undetermined. Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court is open for business as usual.”

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