By Ceyda Caglayan and Maya Gebeily

ISTANBUL/KAHRAMANMARAS (Reuters) -Turkey is grappling with one of the biggest challenges from the earthquake that flattened a swathe of its towns and cities: how to shelter hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in the middle of winter.

Banks of tents are being erected in stadiums and shattered city centres, and Mediterranean and Aegean summer beach resorts outside the quake zone are opening up hotel rooms for evacuees.

With some 6,500 buildings collapsed and countless more damaged, hundreds of thousands of people lack safe housing.

Syrian refugee Bahjat Selo, 62, and his family have camped near their cinderblock, cement and corrugated metal home in Kahramanmaras since the quake caused cracks in its walls.

“It’s too dangerous to be inside. When we go in to get things, we go in like thieves,” he told Reuters.

“We spent four years in a camp – and this is harder. It’s so dark,” he said, his voice cracking and breaking into sobs.

At a tent city set up in a stadium in Kahramanmaras, long lines of bedraggled residents queued up to receive steaming kebabs and dug through bags of donated warm clothing.

Volunteer air worker Fatma Nacar, 25, said she was helping out despite losing her aunt and several nephews to the quake.

“After we buried them, we came here to work as volunteers,” she said, adding aid was arriving slowly due to blocked roads.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority calculates that more than 28,000 homeless people have been brought out of the quake zone so far, with nearly 5,000 leaving by road and more than 23,000 by plane.

HOTELS WELCOME SURVIVORS

In the Aegean resort area of Marmaris, the owner of the Cettia Beach Hotel has opened up his hotel for quake survivors.

“My hotel is closed in winter and it was scheduled to be opened by April when the summer season starts. We were renovating the hotel but we will stop and open up the hotel next week,” said owner Bulent Bulbuloglu.

The Turkish Hoteliers Federation told Reuters thousands of rooms had been allocated in resorts such as Antalya, Alanya, Marmaris, Fethiye, Bodrum as well as İzmir and Cappadocia.

“Hotels in Antalya welcomed their first guests from the disaster zone by Wednesday morning,” said Ulkay Atmaca, head of the Professional Hotel Managers’ Association.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the government was doing all it could to provide temporary accommodation to survivors who wanted to be re-housed.

He told reporters 15,729 people had been accommodated in state guesthouses, student dormitories and hotels, while in Antalya alone, 11,165 evacuees were in hotels.

But with thousands of people still buried under piles of rubble, many survivors appeared unwilling to leave the region despite the freezing weather.

“We have allocated rooms in our hotels but we see that many survivors do not want to come now, because they are still waiting for their family or friends to be rescued from rubble,” said Hakan Saatcioglu, Coordinator of Limak International Hotels & Resorts, which operates four hotels in Antalya.

Another problem in the earthquake area is sanitation.

In Antakya, in the central district of Hatay, it was almost impossible to reach a public toilet. In a tent camp near Hatay Stadium outside the city centre and even in a field hospital near partly-damaged Hatay Research Hospital, there were no public or mobile toilets available as of Wednesday night.

The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake, Turkey’s deadliest since 1999, rose to 16,170 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan, Huseyin Hayatsever, Maya Gebeily, Editing by William Maclean and Christina Fincher)

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