MRS SORPHI Pongsi felt the building shudder, and thought how strange to have an earthquake on the outskirts of Bangkok. ''We were up on the fourth floor and didn't know anything about what was happening downstairs. Then someone shouted 'fire, fire' and I realised the building was shaking because of all the people running.'' In the next few terrifying minutes, Mrs Sorphi, 43, faced an ultimate life or death decision that would confront hundreds of victims of the Kader Industrial fire. As chemical fumes began filling the upper floors of Building One, leaving a trail of death in their wake, the confused workers fell back on their instincts, following the concrete stairway downwards. The steps led to the front doors where they had entered, but to get there they had to pass through a blinding curtain of noxious gases from burning synthetic fibres. Ms Preda Shukhaowang, 39, was one of the first to reach the bottom of the steps, choking from the fumes as she tried to find the doors. ''The exits were blocked. There were many, many people crying and climbing over each other trying to get out. ''They were crushed against the door and were still there when the building collapsed. I saw many people die as I ran away.'' Mrs Sorphi, who was behind her, found the stairs impassable. Less than two metres wide, they were packed with terrified people, some trying to get down to the exits, others heading for the second-floor walkway to Building Two. ''People were getting trampled on the floor. I was trapped with no way down or up.'' In desperation, she flung herself head-first down an elevator chute used to send finished dolls to the third floor, landing on a pile of boxes. ''I had already thought about quitting before the fire because I was sure the building was dangerous. ''The stairway was too narrow. When I got there it was blocked with people, so I tried to slide down the packing elevator, as others were doing. ''But the smoke was pouring up from the bottom through the elevator and I couldn't bear the fumes. Then the lights went out and we couldn't see anything: it was like fumbling around in a darkened room.'' Ms Preda, among the first to leave, was able to get through the second-floor walkway before it became blocked with a wall of people. As she reached the ground through Building Two, she saw the walls of the building she had just left start to fall apart. ''I heard the cries of my friends still inside. There were faces pressed against the window, not knowing how to get out.'' She left three relatives behind somewhere in the madness on the third and fourth floors. ''They're still in there somewhere. I can't help them now,'' she sobbed. Mrs Sorphi had reached the walkway, but found it jammed tight with people. Running back up to the locked fourth floor walkway, she watched the first few people make tentative leaps from the window. Looking behind her, she could see the roof breaking up and knew the floors would go soon. The glow of the creeping inferno had engulfed the second floor and was reaching upwards. Nearby, Ms Sudyot Puantong, 21, was perched on the window willing herself to jump. ''I told myself I would die if I stayed in the building. So I jumped from the fourth floor.'' One floor lower, Mrs La-iad Nadsa-nguen saw a group of women climb awkwardly over the window ledge, helping each other to leave the building. ''There were four or five them, all pregnant women. They jumped before me and they died as I watched, and their babies too.'' Ms Nuthiraporn Jindamongkorn, 23, looked behind her and saw the walls of the fourth floor starting to disintegrate. Balls of cement and sheets of roof iron, steaming from the heat, were dropping like firebombs on the dozens of workers still huddled at the window. ''I closed my eyes and jumped, like the others had done. I don't remember anything after that,'' she said. Ms Rungtip Klinjun, 19, watched entranced as the building came apart around her as it had been built, section by section. ''I saw people jumping from the second, third and fourth floors, and some just lay still after they hit the ground, not moving at all. ''It was a terrible choice. But if you didn't jump to your death you would be burned alive. So I jumped.'' Mrs Sorphi, small, timid and fragile, had watched the balance of fortune swing wildly as a succession of women flung themselves through the windows. ''I couldn't do it, but I knew I had to. It was all a matter of luck, I suppose - some lived, and some died.'' The fire had eaten its way up through the centre of the building, blocking the stairway down to the second-floor walkway. She was feeling faint from the heat and could barely push the narrow window open. She knew she couldn't wait any longer. ''It was all over very quickly. Someone put some cardboard underneath so I only broke my leg when I fell. Other people broke their backs or were killed. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.'' The odds were stacked against Mrs Wanpen Yenjaidrong, 42, who had spent three years scratching a living at the Kader Industrial plant. She was the only breadwinner in the family. Her husband had been invalided and she was working to put their eldest child through school. ''Everybody wanted to jump and some people were crushed against the windows in the rush to get out. ''I couldn't get down from the fourth floor because of the smoke, and the stairway was blocked with other people. We only had 10 minutes to get out when the fire began, so we had to act quickly,'' she said. ''For me, there was no choice. My husband and children depend upon me, so I had to jump.'' She fell awkwardly and broke her back in several places. Doctors say she will probably never hold down a job again. ''Now there is no one to help my family. I will never know if I made the right decision jumping.'' Mr Panya Murangracha was too late and headed in the wrong direction. Lost in the gloom and tumbling over bodies overcome by the dense smoke, he felt his way along the wall to the second floor stairs, which had been partly cleared in the dash to the windows. There were not many people left, and there was nowhere to go. The second-floor walkway had already crashed to the ground in flames and no one knew where the windows were. The last few survivors gripped each other around the waist and groped through the smoke, gasping for breath in the deadly fumes. ''I felt the people behind me dropping to the floor one by one. Then I couldn't stay on my feet any longer and I fell down too,'' he said. ''Then the building shook violently and just started to cave in. I remember clinging to a window ledge somewhere until my fingers hurt. Then I feel into darkness and hit my head on a balcony.'' Miraculously, he was flung clear of the crumbling building, probably the last person to escape alive. As the factory died, thousands of pink and yellow dolls rained down from above, in a grim parody of the death plunge by scores of trapped workers.