About 500 people were evacuated from their homes on Friday after a fire broke out in the village of Guryong, one of the last remaining slums in the South Korean capital Seoul.
Shin Yong-ho, an official at the Gangnam Fire Station, said in a televised briefing that the fire broke out at around 6:28 a.m. in the village’s fourth district. The first responder arrived about five minutes later, he said.
It was extinguished around 11:50 local time and 2,700 square meters of land was damaged.
There is no information about the dead and injured yet.
About 60 homes are believed to have burned, Shin said, adding that most of the structures are made of vinyl plywood panels.
Videos circulating on social media show what looks like row houses on fire, huge black plumes of smoke hanging over slums as sirens blare.
More than 800 responders, including firefighters, police and government workers, have been mobilized, and 10 helicopters have been deployed to help with the response, Shin said.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum, was informed of the fire and ordered government agencies to mobilize “all available personnel and equipment.”
Yoon also asked local governments to evacuate residents and ensure the safety of rescue workers.
Authorities have long warned that Guryong residents are particularly at risk of disaster, with the Gangnam government saying on its website that the slum was “vulnerable to fires” in 2019.
It was also hit hard by floods last August after record rainfall at least 13 people died In Seoul – including some residents trapped in the ugly “banjiha” basement houses depicted in the movie “Parasite”.
The Guryong slum has long been seen as a symbol of the gap between rich and poor in South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy. It’s part of the affluent, glitzy Gangnam district, made famous by Psy’s 2012 song “Gangnam Style,” and sometimes called the Beverly Hills of Seoul.
Gangnam’s high-rise apartment buildings are less than a kilometer from the shantytowns of Guryong, where many residents live in cramped makeshift houses made of materials such as wood and corrugated iron.
Although plans to redevelop the area date back at least a decade, numerous proposals have failed due to disagreements between local governing bodies and negotiations over land compensation.
These efforts are ongoing, with 406 families – more than a third of the slum population – relocated by 2019. Gangnam government website. More than 1,000 residents still live there, Gangnam officials confirmed Friday.
The district shared more redevelopment plans last May in official buildings said that the land will be turned into an “ecologically clean luxury residential complex”.
Authorities are working to help relocate some 1,500 families living in shacks to public housing in three large slums, including Guryong, the Seoul government said in a news release last November.
He added that the city eventually aims to “eliminate abnormal housing such as shacks and vinyl houses.”
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