Hundreds evacuated as fire broke out in a slum next to Seoul’s posh Gangnam district – Portal

Hundreds evacuated as fire broke out in a slum next to Seoul’s posh Gangnam district – Portal

SEOUL, Jan 20 (Portal) – Fire swept through part of a slum in the South Korean capital Seoul on Friday, destroying 60 homes, many made of cardboard and wood, and forcing the evacuation of around 500 people.

It took emergency services five hours to put out the fire, which broke out before dawn in Guryong village, a slum just across a highway from Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district. Officials said no casualties have been reported so far.

With a population of around 1,000, Guryong is one of the capital’s last remaining slums and has become a symbol of inequality in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Tens of helicopters and hundreds of firefighters, police and troops joined efforts to put out the blaze that officials said destroyed nearly one in 10 of Guryong’s more than 600 homes.

“I saw a flash from the kitchen and opened the door and flames spurted out of the houses next door,” said Shin, a 72-year-old woman whose house was completely burned down in the inferno.

“So I knocked on every door nearby and, ‘Fire!’ screamed. and then called 119,” she said, using only her last name.

[1/4] Smoke rises from a fire in Guryong village, the last slum in the glitzy Gangnam district, in Seoul, South Korea January 20, 2023. Yonhap via Portal

Kim Doo-chun, 60, said his family was unaffected by the fire but told Portal the village was under constant threat of disaster in part because of its cardboard houses and narrow streets.

“If a fire breaks out in this neighborhood, the whole village could be in danger if we don’t react quickly. That’s why we’ve been responding together for decades,” said Kim, who has lived in the area for 30 years.

The slum has long been prone to fire and flooding, and there are many safety and health issues.

The government unveiled plans for rehabilitation and resettlement following a major fire in late 2014, but those efforts have made little progress amid a decades-long tug-of-war between landowners, residents and authorities.

Seoul and Gangnam district municipal governments and state-run developers have been at odds over how to compensate private landowners in Guryong and have yet to agree on whether the residents, most of whom are squatters, are eligible for state aid for resettlement and housing to have.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, briefed on the fire while he was in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, ordered every effort to prevent a major disaster, his spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon visited the still-smoldering village and asked officials to prepare to relocate affected families.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Edited by Christian Schmollinger, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore

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