South Korea fire spurs evacuation of 500 from shanty town

Smoke rises from a fire at Guryong village, the last slum in the glitzy Gangnam district, in Seoul, South Korea, January 20, 2023. Yonhap via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) -About 500 people were evacuated on Friday after fire broke out in a shanty town in the South Korean capital, Seoul, burning down some 60 houses, fire authorities said.

The fire erupted at 6:27 a.m. (0927 GMT) in Guryong Village in southern Seoul, which is home to more than 660 households, and was extinguished about five hours later.

Roughly 60 homes in the 2,700-square-meter (29,000-square-foot) area have been destroyed, fire officials said, with about 600 firefighters, police officers and troops as well as 10 helicopters dispatched to contain the blaze. No casualties have been reported so far.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, called for all-out efforts to minimise the damage and mobilise all available firefighters and equipment, his spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said.

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

One of the last remaining slums, the village is a symbol of inequality in Asia's fourth-largest economy just next to the flashy, affluent district of Gangnam.

The area has also been prone to fires, floods and other disasters, with many homes built using cardboard and wood, and residents exposed to safety and health issues.

The government had unveiled plans for redevelopment and relocation after a huge fire in late 2014, but those efforts have made little progress amid a decades-long tug of war between landowners, residents and authorities.

Seoul, Gangnam district and state-run developers have also been at odds over how to compensate the owners of the property and whether the residents, most of whom were living there illegally, are entitled to government support for relocation and housing.

The Seoul city government said Mayor Oh Se-hoon visited the village and asked officials to draw up measures to relocate families affected by the fire.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Gerry Doyle)

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