Fire displaces Gangnam’s squatters

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Fire displaces Gangnam’s squatters

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Residents in the squatters’ shantytown in Gangnam, hold a press conference Monday demanding their homes back. [YONHAP]


A massive fire broke out at a 30-year old squatters’ shantytown in Gangnam, on Sunday afternoon.

And the residents made homeless are living in tents nearby, fearful that the government will bulldoze the area ? which is in one of the richest neighborhoods in Korea ? and sell it to developers.

Police arrested a 9-year-old elementary school boy surnamed Kim, Monday on charges of setting the fire.

At least 50 out of 109 families in the area were left homeless by a three-hour fire that swept through a squatters’ compound in Gangnam. The fire resulted in 100 million won ($92,421) in losses, according to police. No casualties were reported.

The fire started around 5 p.m. Sunday. Flames spread quickly as the compound was full of flammable materials.

The fire department dispatched 75 fire trucks and two helicopters to put out the blaze. The fire was under control at 6 p.m., but firefighters continued to hose down the area until 8 p.m.

After examining CCTV records in the neighborhood, Suseo police found that smoke poured out of a particular home shortly after the boy left it.

Police went door-to-door to question neighbors about any suspicious activity, and found the boy.

The boy confessed during questioning that he had been playing with fire.

According to police, the boy picked up a cigarette lighter on the street. In one of the squatter shacks he set fire to a chopstick and put it in a Styrofoam cup. When the cup went up in flames, the boy was frightened and so ran away.

Police plan to discharge the boy with a warning.

Squatters told journalists that there were no casualties because they evacuated their homes quickly. The neighborhood conducts regular fire drills, they said, because fire is their biggest fear. Residents even take turns patrolling the shantytown every night during the winter.

Most of the residents lost valuables in the blaze because it spread so rapidly.

Gangnam District Office said the affected residents would be temporarily housed at Guryong Elementary School, but the squatters refused the offer. Instead, they set up tents nearby.

The squatters said they feared they could lose their homes if they vacated the area even temporarily. They worried that the Gangnam District Office could bulldoze the area, which is officially Seoul city government’s property.

“We demand financial assistance to rebuild the shantytown because most of us work at junkyards collecting recyclable materials to make a living every day,” said resident Ga Jae-woong. “It will be difficult for many of us to make a living if we leave here.”

The history of the squatters dates back to the 1980s. The squatters were forced to move to the area by former President Chun Doo-hwan in 1981 as a part of street beautification project that moved the homeless off the streets of Seoul.

The shantytown is in the shadow of Tower Palace, a luxury high-rise residential complex.

The land occupied by the squatters is extremely valuable and developers want it to construct apartments. It is located near Yangjae Stream, a popular destination for jogging and bicycle riding.

Meanwhile, the Gangnam District Office hasn’t given a clear answer about providing emergency funds for the victims of the fire.

An official at the office said Gangnam District Office is doing the best it can do to help the victims recover from the disaster.

He said providing emergency funds cannot be decided overnight because the matter had to be discussed with legal experts first.


By Kim Mij-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [연합]

화재 판자촌 주민 주거대책 요구

임시구호소 거부…‘집 짓게 재지원 해달라’

화재로 마을의 절반 가량이 불탄 서울 강남구 개포동의 무허가 판잣집 밀집지역인 재건마을 주민들이 구청의 임시 호를 거부한 채 주거 대책을 마련해 라고 요구했다.

재건마을 주민으로 구성된 `포이동 266번지 사수 대책위원회`는 13일 오전 마을회관에서 기자회견을 열어 "재난지역에 준하는 조치를 하고 대책을 위해 구청장이 주민과 면담에 나서라"고 촉구했다.

주민은 "서울시와 강남구청에 주거환경 개선을 줄기차게 요구했지만 돌아오는 답은 없었다"며 "결국 주민의 요구를 무시한 시와 구청이 대형 화재를 낳았다"고 주장했다.

이들은 "집은 잿더미가 됐지만 다시 보금자리를 마련할 터전까지 잃을 수는 없다"며 "서울시도 주거환경 개선 요구를 묵살한 책임을 지고 주거권 보장을 위한 모든 조치를 취해야 한다"고 덧붙였다.

소방당국은 전날 오후 이 마을 재활용품 야적장에서 시작된 불이 인근 주택으로 번지면서 109가구가 거주하는 가옥 33채 중 50가구가 사는 13채가 소실된 것으로 파악했다.

강남구청은 이재민을 위해 인근 구룡초등학교에 임시구호소를 설치하고 모포와 식수, 구급약품 등을 마련했지만 주민들은 "마을을 비우면 구청이 철거반을 투입할지도 모른다"며 마을 공터에 천막을 치고 생활하고 있다.

전날 밤 천막에서 잤다는 고물상 설헌수(63)씨는 "노인과 어린 아이들은 마을회관으로 보내고 천막에서 잤는데 춥고 몸을 눕힐 공간도 부족하다"며 "당장 이부자리와 생필품이 없는데 몸만 뛰쳐나왔으니 걱정이 많다"고 말했다.

반빈곤빈민연대 가재웅 상임대표는 "주문 대부분이 인근 고물상에서 일해 이곳을 떠나면 살기가 힘들다"며 "마을에 집을 다시 지어 정착해 살 수 있도록 재정지원을 해달라고 요구하는 것"이라고 설명했다.

구청 관계자는 "어제 화재가 났기 때문에 우선 생활 환경을 갖출 수 있도록 돕고 있다"며 "재정착을 위한 재정지원 문제는 법률 검토 등 논의가 더 필요하다"고 말했다.

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