Shin Yong-ho, an official with the fire department of Seoul’s Gangnam district, said rescuers continued to search areas affected by the blaze, but all residents were believed to have been safely evacuated.
More than 800 firefighters, police officers and public workers were deployed to fight the flame and handle evacuations after the blaze broke out around 6:30 a.m.
Photos from the crime scene showed firefighters battling the blaze under thick white smoke that blanketed the village as helicopters sprayed water from above.
Shin said the fire was believed to have started in one of the village’s houses, made of plastic sheets and plywood. He said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
Kim Ah-reum, an official at the Gangnam district office, said about 500 residents have been evacuated to nearby facilities, including a school gym. Officials planned to move residents into hotels later.
News of the fire alarmed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who, while visiting Switzerland for the Davos rallies, ordered officials to mobilize all available resources to minimize damage and casualties, his spokesman Kim Eun-hye said.
The country is still reeling from its worst disaster in nearly a decade, after nearly 160 people died in a wave of crowds in a Seoul entertainment district in October. Experts blame that deadly infatuation on poor planning by police and administrative officials, who failed to enforce basic crowd control measures despite anticipating massive gatherings of Halloween revelers.
Located near some of Seoul’s most expensive real estate, the village of Guryong has often been damaged by fire over the years, a vulnerability associated with the tightly packed homes built with materials that burn easily.
The village originated in the 1980s as a settlement for people who were displaced from their original neighborhoods due to the city’s large-scale evictions and redevelopment projects. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes in slums and low-income settlements during those years, a process the country’s then military leaders saw as crucial to beautifying the city for foreign visitors ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.