About 500 people were evacuated from their homes on Friday after a fire ripped through the village of Koryeong, one of the last remaining slums in the South Korean capital, Seoul, according to firefighting officials.
The fire broke out around 6:28 a.m. in the fourth district of the village, said Shin Young-ho, an official at the Gangnam Fire Station, in a televised briefing. He said paramedics arrived about five minutes later.
It was extinguished around 11:50 am local time and damaged an area of 2,700 square metres.
There have been no reports of deaths or injuries so far.
About 60 homes are believed to have burned down, Shin said, adding that most of the structures are made of vinyl plywood sheets.
Videos on social media show the flames engulfing what looks like rows of houses, with huge columns of thick black smoke hanging over the slum as sirens blare nearby.
Shen said more than 800 response personnel, including firefighters, police and government personnel, have been mobilized, while 10 helicopters have been deployed to assist with the response.
South Korean President Yoon Sok-yul, who is in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, was notified of 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 slums were “fire-prone” in 2019.
It was also badly hit by floods last August, when rainfall was recorded At least 13 people were killed In Seoul – including some residents trapped in the filthy basement houses “Banjeha” that were filmed in the movie “Parasite”.
The Goreong slum has long been seen as a symbol of the gap between rich and poor in South Korea, the fourth largest economy in Asia. It’s part of the affluent and glamorous Gangnam District, made famous by Psy’s 2012 song “Gangnam Style” and sometimes called the Beverly Hills of Seoul.
Less than a kilometer away from the Goryeong huts are the high-rise apartment buildings in Gangnam, where many residents live in cramped temporary dwellings built of materials such as wood and corrugated iron.
Although plans to redevelop the area stretch back at least a decade, many proposals have foundered due to disagreements between local government agencies and negotiations over land compensation.
Those efforts are ongoing, with 406 families — more than a third of slum dwellers — relocated as of 2019, according to Gangnam government website. Officials in Gangnam confirmed on Friday that more than 1,000 residents still live there.
The district shared more redevelopment plans this past May, with local official Saying that the land will be transformed into an “environmentally friendly luxury residential complex”.
The Seoul government said in a press release last November that authorities are working to help move about 1,500 families living in shanties in three major slums, including Goryong, to public housing instead.
Ultimately, she added, the city aims to “eliminate unnatural housing such as cottages and vinyl homes.”