Families beg for help to find loved ones in snow-covered earthquake debris

By Umit Ozdal

MALATYA, Turkey (Reuters) - Desperate and cold from the snow lying thick on the ground, relatives of earthquake victims in the Turkish city of Malatya expressed their frustration on Tuesday at what they said was the lack of help as they searched for missing loved ones.

With no specialist equipment or even gloves or winter clothing, they tried to pick through the wreckage of homes crumpled by the force of the earthquake that struck Turkey on Monday, killing thousands of people.

"There is not even a single person here. We are under the snow, without a home, without anything," said Murat Alinak, whose home has collapsed and whose relatives are missing. "What shall I do, where can I go?"

Sabiha Alinak said the townspeople, huddling around bonfires to keep warm, should take the rescue operation into their own hands.

"My in-laws' grandchildren are there. We have been here for two days. We are devastated," she said.

"Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can rescue them. We can do it with our means. If they (the state emergency teams) don't come, for God's sake let us do it."

Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people have been affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 300 km from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south.

Bleak winter weather and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities, home to millions of people, were hindering efforts to assess the impact and plan help after the deadliest earthquake in Turkey since 1999.

Ahmet Alinak, speaking, like the others, before President Tayyip Erdogan announced the state of emergency, said two of his nephews were trapped in a collapsed building.

"There is no one here, we are all doomed," he said. "This is not what we expected from the state. No matter how big the earthquake was, mobilisation of all people was necessary."

Erdogan declared the three-month state of emergency to cover Turkey's 10 southern provinces and called it a disaster zone in a move meant to bolster rescue efforts.

He said 70 countries had offered help in search and rescue operations and that Turkey planned to open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya to temporarily house people.

Turkey's disaster and emergency authority has erected tents in Malatya to shelter those who have lost their homes.

(Reporting by Umit Ozdal; Editing by Alison Williams and Janet Lawrence)