A fire spread through a neighborhood of densely packed, makeshift homes in South Korea's capital Friday morning, destroying at least 60 and forcing about 500 residents to flee.
Officials said firefighters were bringing the fire under control at Seoul's Guryong village and there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.
Shin Yong-ho, an official at the fire department of Seoul’s Gangnam district, said rescue workers were continuing to search areas affected by the fire but that it was believed that all residents have safely evacuated.
More than 800 firefighters, police officers and public workers were deployed to fight the flame and handle evacuations after the fire broke out around 6:30 a.m.
Photos from the scene showed firefighters fighting the flame under thick white smoke covering the village as helicopters sprayed water from above.
Shin said it was presumed that the fire began at one of the village’s homes made with plastic sheets and plywood. He said the cause of the fire was being investigated, reports AP.
Kim Ah-reum, an official at the Gangnam district office, said around 500 residents have evacuated to nearby facilities including a school gym. Officials were planning to later move the residents to hotels.
The news of the fire alarmed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who while visiting Switzerland for the Davos meetings instructed officials to mobilize all available resources to minimize damage and casualties, his spokesperson Kim Eun-hye said.
The country is still reeling from its worst disaster in almost a decade, after nearly 160 people died in a crowd surge at a Seoul nightlife district in October. Experts blame that deadly crush on poor planning by police and administrative officials, who failed to employ basic crowd control measures despite anticipating huge gatherings of Halloween revelers.
Guryong village, located near some of Seoul’s most expensive real estate, has often been damaged by fire over the years, a vulnerability that has been linked to its tightly packed homes built with materials that easily burn.
The village was formed in the 1980s as a settlement for people who were evicted from their original neighborhoods under the city’s massive house clearings and redevelopment projects. Hundreds of thousands of people were removed from their homes in slums and low-income settlements during those years, a process the country’s then-military leaders saw as crucial in beautifying the city for foreign visitors ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.