A fire destroyed some 60 makeshift houses in a densely populated neighborhood surrounded by some of the wealthiest streets in South Korea’s ultra-modern capital on Friday.

Firefighters extinguished the flames in Seoul’s Guryong village in about five hours and no injuries or deaths were reported.

Shin Yong-ho, an official with Seoul’s Gangnam district fire department, said rescue teams have searched areas affected by the fire, but all residents are believed to have evacuated safely.

More than 800 firefighters, police officers and public workers battled the flames and managed evacuations after the blaze broke out around 6:30 a.m. local time.

The photos showed firefighters fighting the flames under thick white smoke that blanketed the village as helicopters sprayed water from above. Later, orange-clad rescuers searched across the charred landscape where gray tendrils of smoke still rose. The capital’s skyscrapers gleamed a short distance away.

«How could this happen at the Lunar New Year festivities?» Kim Sung-han, a 66-year-old resident of the village, told The Associated Press, referring to one of the country’s biggest holidays that begins this weekend and continues through Tuesday.

“I had to run out of the house in just these clothes,” unable to get anything else out, Kim said. «I couldn’t go to work… when it’s already so hard to live.»

Lee Woon-cheol, one of the village’s community leaders, said residents were able to quickly alert others to the fire and firefighters went door-to-door looking for people and helping them evacuate.

“This is where many accidents due to electrical short circuits happen,” Lee told the YTN news channel. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Kim Ah-reum, an official with the Gangnam district office, said around 500 residents were evacuated to nearby facilities, including a school gymnasium. Authorities say most of them were expected to return to their homes, but at least 45 people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged were to stay temporarily in a hotel. Some of the 60 houses that caught fire were unoccupied.

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 spokesman Kim said. Eun-hye.

South Korea is still grappling with its worst disaster in nearly a decade, after nearly 160 people were killed in a surge of crowds in 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 large gatherings of Halloween revelers.

A squatter camp located near some of Seoul’s most expensive real estate, characterized by imposing high-rise apartments and lavish shopping districts, Guryong village has long been a symbol of South Korea’s stark income inequalities. .

The hillside town has often been damaged by fire over the years, a vulnerability that has been linked to its cramped homes built of materials that burn easily. Eleven houses were destroyed by fire in March and flooding forced about 100 people to evacuate last August.

The town, which has about 670 houses though not all are occupied, was formed in the 1980s as a settlement for people who were evicted from their original neighborhoods due to the city’s massive housing cleanup and redevelopment projects.

Hundreds of thousands of people were evicted from their homes in slums and low-income settlements during those years, a process the country’s then military leaders considered crucial to beautifying the city for foreign visitors ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. .

The Seoul city government first announced plans to redevelop the area in 2011, but efforts stalled due to disagreements between city officials and residents over land compensation and other issues. __

AP video journalists Yong Ho Kim and Yong Jun Chang contributed to the report.