Guryong Village, South Korea: 500 people evacuated after massive fire in one of Seoul’s last slums


Seoul
CNN

According to firefighters, 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 the South Korean capital of Seoul.

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

No deaths or injuries have been reported so far.

About 60 houses are believed to have burned down, Shin said, adding that most of the structures are made of vinyl plywood panels.

Firefighters and rescuers at the scene of a blaze in Guryong village in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 20.

Videos on social media show the fire resembling rows of houses, with huge thick plumes of black smoke hovering over the slum as sirens blare nearby.

More than 800 emergency responders have been mobilized, including firefighters, police and government personnel, while 10 helicopters have been deployed to assist in the response, Shin said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, was notified of the fire and ordered authorities to mobilize “all available personnel and equipment,” the presidential office said.

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

Authorities have long warned that the residents of Guryong are at particular 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 flooding last August, when record rainfall killed at least 13 people in Seoul — including some residents trapped in the dingy “banjiha” basement homes depicted in the movie “Parasite.”

High-rise residential buildings in Gangnam tower over Guryong village in Seoul, South Korea, on 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’s part of the affluent, glittering neighborhood of Gangnam, made famous by Psy’s 2012 song “Gangnam Style” and is sometimes referred to as Seoul’s Beverly Hills.

Gangnam’s high-rise apartment buildings are less than a kilometer from Guryong’s shacks, where many residents live in cramped makeshift homes built from materials such as wood and corrugated iron.

Although plans to redevelop the area are at least a decade old, numerous proposals have failed due to disagreements between local governing bodies and land compensation negotiations.

These efforts are underway, with 406 households — more than a third of the slum’s population — having relocated as of 2019, according to the Gangnam government’s website. More than 1,000 residents still live there, Gangnam officials confirmed Friday.

The district shared more redevelopment plans last May, with a local official saying the land would be turned into “an eco-friendly luxury residential complex.”

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

It added that the city aims to eventually “eliminate abnormal housing such as shacks and vinyl homes.”

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