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Major fire spreads through Seoul slums as 500 residents forced to flee

South Korean president orders ‘all-out effort’ to minimise damage

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 20 January 2023 10:26 GMT
Seoul fires: Helicopters drop water on burning village as hundreds flee

Hundreds of people were forced to flee on Friday after a major fire erupted in one of last remaining slums in the South Korean capital, destroying at least 60 makeshift houses.

The blaze started at 6.27am local time in southern Seoul's Guryong Village and was extinguished within about five hours, officials said, adding there have been no reports of injuries or deaths so far.

Guryong Village is home to more than 660 households, surrounded by some of the wealthiest districts in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is in Switzerland attending the World Economic Forum, called for “all-out efforts” to minimise the damage and mobilise all available forces.

More than 800 firefighters, police officers and public workers were pressed into evacuating about 500 people and extinguishing the blaze.

Rescue workers were continuing to search areas affected by the fire, although it was believed that all affected residents were safely moved out, said Shin Yong-ho, an official at the fire department of Gangnam district.

The residents were moved to nearby facilities including a school gym, Kim Ah-reum, an official at the Gangnam district office, said. Some of the people who completely lost their houses in the fire or were left with heavy damages are likely to be shifted to three hotels.

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at the Guryong village (YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images)

Interior minister Lee Sang-min instructed officials to prevent secondary damage and protect residents in nearby areas, the ministry said in a statement.

Photos and videos shared widely on social media showed helicopters spraying water from above to contain the blaze while firefighters fought the flames to bring everyone to safety. Later orange-suited rescuers searched through the charred landscape where plumes of smoke were still billowing.

"How could this happen on the Lunar New Year holidays?" asked a 66-year-old village resident. "I had to run out of home only in these clothes," without being able to bring out anything else," Kim Sung-han told The Associated Press.

"I couldn't go to work ... when it's already so hard to live."

Around 500 people were forced to flee their homes (YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images)

Lee Woon-cheol, one of the community leaders in the village, said residents were able to swiftly share the news about the fire through their emergency contacts. The community leader added that firefighters were doing door-to-door in their effort to rescue people.

"This is where a lot of accidents happen because of electrical short circuits.”

The settlement was formed in the 1980s for people who were evicted from their original neighbourhoods under the city’s massive beautification and redevelopment projects. Hundreds of thousands of people were removed from their homes in slums and low-income settlements ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

The congested settlement is vulnerable to fire hazards and climate disasters. Eleven houses were reportedly destroyed during a fire at the village in March 2022.

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