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


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

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

So far, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

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

Videos on social media showed the fire engulfing what appeared to be rows of homes, with huge plumes of thick black smoke hanging over the slum as sirens wailed nearby.

More than 800 response personnel, including firefighters, police and government officials, have been mobilized, while 10 helicopters have been deployed to help with the response, Shin said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, 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.

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

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

It was also hit hard by the floods in August last year when there was record rainfall killed at least 13 people in Seoul – including some residents trapped in the filthy basement ‘banjiha’ homes depicted in the movie Parasite.

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

The Guryeong 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 neighborhood made famous by Psy’s 2012 song “Gangnam Style” and sometimes called the Beverly Hills of Seoul.

Gangnam’s high-rises are less than a kilometer from Guryong’s shantytowns, where many residents live in cramped makeshift dwellings built from 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 land compensation negotiations.

Those efforts continue, with 406 households — more than a third of the slum’s population — relocated as of 2019, according to Gangnam Government Website. More than 1,000 residents still live there, Gangnam officials confirmed Friday.

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

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

It added that the city aims to eventually “eliminate unusual residences such as shacks and vinyl houses.”

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