CUSTOMERS linked arms and groped through the smoke that choked the maze of corridors. 'Everyone was yelling, calling one another's names and trying to keep together in the dark. I just kept calling my friends' names hoping they could hear me,' Li Siu-lun, 19, a computer technician, said from his hospital bed. He and a dozen friends were having a party in a VIP room on the second floor when the blaze began to spread through the building. There was no alarm and no one came to warn them. They found out about the fire only when they went out to complain that they had been waiting 20 minutes for a fresh round of beer they had ordered. Mr Li said that during a break in the music he went to find a waiter but he saw through the small window in the door that the lights were out. 'I opened the door and the corridor was already full of smoke. I began to choke almost at once and couldn't stop coughing,' he said. He and his friends, nine men and three women, rushed out. They were led along the darkened hallways by one of their party who was a frequent visitor to Top One. 'We held hands in a line because we were worried someone would be left behind. But other people were pouring into the corridor from other rooms. Somebody pushed us and the line was broken. 'I called out my friend's name hoping he would answer and I would know where he was, but everybody was yelling and shoving in the narrow hall. I wasn't sure if he could hear me,' Mr Li said. His friend, 19-year-old Lau Wai-lun, said he was knocked over twice. 'It was suffocating, I was coughing continually. I was almost frozen with fear and I could not keep up with my friends,' Mr Lau said from his bed in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 'I remembered the Garley fire just two months ago and thought I was going to die. I was almost in tears,' the fashion salesman said. 'I had to just get a grip of myself. I was determined to get out alive and just stretched my hands out in front and groped my way out. 'I stepped on somebody and I fell over twice. It took about three minutes to get out of that hell, but to me it seemed like three years.' When they got outside the karaoke bar the two friends hugged and sobbed with relief. 'When I looked back, the flames were still burning through the windows and pieces of glass were falling like rain. 'I saw firemen carrying out the bodies and felt so lucky that all my friends had escaped,' Mr Lau said. Three other members of their group suffered from smoke inhalation, were admitted to hospital, but were discharged after treatment. Mr Li and Mr Lau were last night in stable condition.