There was some shaking and a deafening boom followed by a plume of dust. Then, 45 Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, was nothing but a pile of rubble. In the hours leading up to the collapse, residents inside the building had a feeling that something was amiss. Chan, who lived on the third floor with her husband, both 22, and her parents-in-law, said her flat's entire wall had tilted, throwing open all the doors in the unit. Then she received a call from her nearby property agent, who had heard shouting on the street, telling her the building was going to fall. She grabbed her young baby and scrambled out of their HK$3,000-a-month flat, banging on the door of a flat where she knew a prostitute worked. She knew of several prostitutes working in the building. The prostitute followed her down the stairs, but when she reached the bottom, there was a huge bang as the building began to collapse. 'I froze, but the owner of the CD shop next door grabbed me and pulled me into the store,' said Chan. 'He saved my life, but I never saw the prostitute again.' Hers may be one of the bodies entombed beneath the rubble. The first warnings came about 10 to 15 minutes before the five-storey, 55-year-old building collapsed. Business owners on the other side of the street saw five to six workers who had been renovating a shop on the ground floor run from the building - yelling for passers-by to keep away and call police. But their yells only drew more people towards the building, said Hui, who owns a goldsmith's across the road. After all, who would expect a Hong Kong building to collapse? There have been periods in the city's turbulent history when perfect construction techniques were less important than the urgent business of moving people out of squatter's shacks and into proper buildings. Even so, the number of complete buildings that have turned to rubble can be counted on one hand. 'At first, I couldn't understand why the construction workers were yelling, because there didn't look to be anything unusual about the building,' Hui said. 'There was nothing falling from it. It certainly didn't look like it was going to fall down. But because the workers were shouting, people were stopping to see what was going on.' Several minutes later, five people - some still wearing slippers - rushed out of the building's entrance. Then Hui saw and heard a woman on the first floor climb out of the window, waving a pair of sports shoes and screaming that she needed help. People on the street yelled at her to run downstairs and leave the building, but she screamed that she could not. Ten seconds after her emotional appeal for help, at 1.46pm, the collapse began. Almost simultaneously, fire engines arrived, responding to a 999 call some three minutes earlier from a bus passenger who had seen the screaming woman. Floor number one was the first to go, followed by the second floor, and so on until the building was reduced to a pile of debris on the ground. Concrete, dust and fittings from the building filled the street. 'I was badly shaken. I couldn't believe what had happened,' Hui said. The woman's face disappeared and she wasn't seen again, he said. A 60-year-old woman, nicknamed Auntie Tong, who lives in the building next door, had just finished lunch and settled down in front of the television when her neighbour came banging on the door. 'She yelled at me: 'The building is collapsing. We've got to get out of here!'' Tong said. But it was too late, as the whole staircase had collapsed, leaving them stranded in the flat's toilet for 30 minutes. 'I was terrified. The building next door had all gone,' Tong said. A female employee of a nearby bakery, surnamed Wong, thought a fire had broken out when the fire engines began arriving. But when she rushed from her shop to check, she heard a loud explosion. Debris and dust were pouring into the road towards two fire engines, which raced to get out of the way. 'One fire engine quickly drove forward and the other reversed,' she said. Wong, who lives on the block across the road on the mixed commercial and residential street, said she had moved out of the collapsed building two years ago. 'The floor of the building would shake sometimes when vehicles like double-deckers drove past,' he said. 'But I moved out because the landlord raised the rent.' A woman in her 30s was sitting on her roof, as she often does on a Friday afternoon, when she heard what she thought was an earthquake. 'I looked over and the building just disappeared. Everything was shaking and swaying,' she said. 'My heart was pounding so hard that it hurts now.' She ran inside and banged on her neighbours' door to get them to leave the building. A woman who identified herself as Tsui, who lives in a fourth-floor flat of the adjacent block, said she was asleep when the incident happened. 'As I woke up, I felt my bed shaking. I immediately picked up my baby to run down [the stairs],' she said. Even as she ran down the stairs, she heard people on the street shouting that the building had collapsed. 'I was very frightened. My legs were shaking,' she said. The area is popular because small flats can be rented in the convenient location for about HK$3,000. But many residents of the area said they were worried about what would happen to their flats now. So far, 24 families, totalling 64 people, have moved out of nearby flats for fear of their safety, and registered for assistance with the Social Welfare Department. Two shelters, one in Hung Hom in the other in Yau Ma Tei, were taking in those who couldn't return to their homes last night. Many may find it hard to get to sleep. But at least they got out in time.