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Guryong Village, South Korea: 500 evacuated as massive fire breaks out in one of Seoul’s last remaining slums


Seoul
CNN

About 500 people were evacuated from their homes on Friday after a fire broke out in Guryong Village, one of the last remaining slums in South Korea’s capital Seoul, according to firefighters.

The fire broke out at around 6:28 a.m. in the village’s fourth ward, Shin Yong-ho, an official with the Gangnam fire station, said in a televised briefing. First responders arrived about five minutes later, he said.

No deaths or injuries have been reported so far.

About 60 homes are thought to have burned down, Shin said, adding that most structures are made from vinyl plywood panels.

Firefighters and rescue workers at the site of a fire in the village of Guryong in Seoul, South Korea, January 20.

Videos on social media show the blaze engulfing what looks like rows of houses, with huge plumes of thick black smoke hanging over the slum as sirens wail nearby.

More than 800 response personnel were mobilized, including firefighters, police and government workers, while 10 helicopters were deployed to assist in the response, Shin said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum, was briefed on the fire and ordered authorities to mobilize “all available personnel and equipment”, according to the presidential office. .

Yoon also asked local governments to evacuate residents and ensure the safety of rescue workers, his office said.

Authorities have long warned that residents of Guryong are particularly vulnerable to disasters, with the Gangnam government saying on its website that the slum was “vulnerable to fires” in 2019.

It was also badly hit by flooding last August, when record rainfall killed at least 13 people in Seoul — including some residents trapped in the seedy “banjiha” basement houses depicted in the movie “Parasite.”

High-rise residential buildings in Gangnam Tower above Guryong Village in Seoul, South Korea, November 24, 2020.

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 is part of the affluent and glittering Gangnam district, made famous by Psy’s 2012 song “Gangnam Style” and sometimes referred to as the Beverly Hills of Seoul.

Gangnam’s high-rise buildings are less than a kilometer from Guryong’s shacks, where many residents live in cramped makeshift dwellings constructed from materials like wood and corrugated iron.

Although plans to redevelop the area date back at least a decade, many proposals have failed due to disagreements between local governing bodies and negotiations over land compensation.

These efforts continue, with 406 households – more than a third of the slum population – relocated in 2019, according to the Gangnam government website. More than 1,000 residents still live there, Gangnam officials confirmed on Friday.

The neighborhood shared more redevelopment plans last May, with a local official claiming that the land would be transformed into “a luxury eco-friendly residential complex”.

Authorities are working to help relocate about 1,500 households living in shacks in three major slums, including Guryong, to public housing, the Seoul government said in a press release last November.

He added that the city ultimately aims to “eliminate anomalous residences such as shacks and vinyl houses.”

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