fire fighter wearing black and yellow uniform pointing for something

Today’s episode will introduce and explain vocabulary that may be essential in a disaster. I will teach you key phrases and words to describe disasters, raise awareness and gain support, and that may help you survive in a disaster situation. This episode is dedicated to the people affected by the recent earthquake in Turkey and the Middle East, and should hopefully be a useful resource to people wanting to communicate about natural disasters in English.

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Earthquake Disaster in Turkey and the Middle East

Today’s episode will be slightly different to my normal shows. Last week Turkey and Syria were hit by a catastrophic earthquake. The disaster has destroyed entire communities, tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, and many more are missing, injured, and displaced.

The images coming from Turkey and the Middle East are terrifying and devastating. Seeing towns completely demolished by the immense power of the earthquake, buildings laying in piles of rubble, and families mourning their missing relatives is soul-destroying.

I have a lot of Turkish listeners. In fact, Turkey is my second biggest audience. I have Turkish subscribers to my Patreon and talk regularly with people in Turkey. Many of you listening have reached out to me, asking me to post on my social media and raise awareness for the disaster.

And while I’ve done this, I wanted to do something more. I don’t have much money right now so I’m not able to give a meaningful donation, but I wanted to be of some use or help to all of the Turkish listeners who reached out.

So, I’ve decided to make this podcast. This podcast is going to introduce, explain, and teach essential vocabulary for disaster situations. I’m going to break down the podcast into three main sections: first, vocabulary to describe disasters; second, language for survival in a disaster; and third, essential English for raising awareness and support. I’ve written it in a slightly different style as I want it to be as clear as possible and introduce as much vocabulary as possible in a short period of time.

I hope this podcast will be of use to the thousands of people in Turkey who want to communicate with the English speaking world about the disaster in the country. My biggest regret is that I didn’t make this episode earlier (it was on my list of ideas of months).

And I’m sure there are many people listening to this podcast from countries at risk of natural disasters. I have large audiences in Italy, Japan, and South America, all places that could experience devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and more. Hopefully you will never need this episode, but I think it is important that everyone is prepared and able to discuss and communicate about disaster situations.

Key Vocabulary for Describing Disasters

Types of Natural Disasters

First and foremost, it’s important to note that natural disasters can be broadly categorized into two types: geological and meteorological. Geological disasters include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. Meteorological disasters include hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

An earthquake is a sudden and intense shaking of the ground, caused by the movement of tectonic plates. A volcanic eruption occurs when molten rock, ash, and gas escape from a volcano. A tsunami is a giant wave caused by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption.

Hurricanes, also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones, are powerful storms with strong winds and heavy rain. Tornadoes are rapidly rotating columns of air that form from powerful thunderstorms. And floods occur when a body of water, such as a river or ocean, overflows its banks and covers the near land.

Having a solid understanding of the different types of natural disasters and the vocabulary used to describe them can help you better prepare for, and respond to, these events in the future.


Vocabulary for Describing the Severity of a Disaster

When a disaster strikes you need to be able to communicate its impact effectively. This information can help emergency responders prioritize their efforts and give resources correctly.

To describe the severity of a disaster, we can use words such as mild, moderate, severe, devastating, and catastrophic. A mild disaster might cause minimal damage with little impact on daily life. A moderate disaster might cause some damage and disrupt daily routines, but the situation can be managed.

A severe disaster, on the other hand, can cause widespread destruction and result in significant loss of life and property. And a catastrophic disaster is one that is so severe that it has a profound and long-lasting effect on the affected region and its people. The tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004 and the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 are examples of catastrophic natural disasters. The severity of a disaster can change over time


Phrases of Describing the Impact of a Disaster

You may also need to be able to describe the extent of the damage and the effects it has on the people and the environment. This information is essential for raising awareness and support, and for guiding relief efforts. To describe the impact of a disaster, we can use words and phrases such as damage, destruction, loss of life, displacement, and environmental impact.

Damage refers to the harm caused to property and infrastructure such as homes, roads, bridges, and communication systems. Destruction is so much damage that a building or structure cannot be repaired.

Loss of life refers to the death of people as a result of a disaster. Displacement refers to the forced movement of people from their homes, often due to safety concerns or destruction of their homes. People may become homeless or seek safety in temporary shelters. Environmental impact refers to the effects of a disaster on the natural environment, such as soil erosion, water contamination, and air pollution.

Other phrases that can be used to describe the impact of a disaster include “power outages,” “emergency response,” “relief efforts,” “evacuation orders,” and “infrastructure collapse.”

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English for Survival

Vocabulary for Safety Measures

Knowing the right words and phrases to describe safety measures during a disaster can be crucial for ensuring your own safety as well as the safety of those around you. It’s important to be able to communicate effectively about the dangers and steps that need to be taken to stay safe.

Here are some key words and phrases to use when discussing safety measures during a disaster:

“Evacuate”: to leave a place, especially because it is dangerous.

“Shelter“: a place of safety or refuge

“Flash flood“: a sudden, fast-moving flood that occurs when heavy rain falls in a short amount of time.

“Tsunami warning”: an alert issued by the government or a warning centre that a tsunami is expected, and people should evacuate to higher ground.

“Emergency services”: services provided in response to an emergency, such as firefighting, ambulance services, and police

“Life-threatening”: posing a serious risk to someone’s life or health.

“Mandatory evacuation”: an order by the government or other authority to evacuate a specific area.

“Natural hazard”: a phenomenon that occurs naturally, such as a hurricane or earthquake, which has the potential to cause harm to people or damage to property.

“Warning system“: a system designed to give a warning in the event of danger, such as a fire alarm or a tornado siren.

In addition to these specific terms, familiarise yourself with general vocabulary related to safety, such as “emergency,” “danger,” and “warning.”


Phrases for Giving Instructions and Advice

Effective communication and the ability to give clear instructions and advice are fundamental skills everyone should have in a disaster as it helps ensure everyone’s safety and minimize confusion.

Here are some key phrases to use when giving instructions and advice during a disaster:

“Stay calm”: This phrase is used to encourage people to remain calm and not panic in a dangerous situation.

“Follow the evacuation route”: This phrase is used to instruct people to evacuate an area and follow the designated route.

“Take cover”: This phrase is used to advise people to find a safe place to protect themselves from harm.

“Listen to the authorities”: This phrase is used to advise people to listen to the instructions of the government or other authorities during a disaster.

“Avoid floodwaters”: This phrase is used to advise people to stay away from areas affected by flooding.

“Stay away from fallen power lines”: This phrase is used to advise people to stay away from fallen power lines, which can be extremely dangerous.

“Seek higher ground”: This phrase is used to advise people to move to higher ground in the event of a flood or tsunami.

“Check on your neighbours”: This phrase is used to advise people to check on the well-being of their neighbours and offer assistance if needed.

“Stay informed”: This phrase is used to advise people to stay informed about the situation by listening to the news or following updates from the authorities.

“Be prepared”: This phrase is used to advise people to prepare for future disasters by having an emergency kit and plan in place.

Giving clear instructions and advice during a disaster can help ensure everyone’s safety and minimize confusion. It’s important to be familiar with the key phrases used in disaster response and relief efforts.


Expressions for Communicating with Others

As well as knowing vocabulary about safety messages and phrases for giving instructions, it is important to be able to communicate with other people also affected by a disaster. Here are some key expressions to use when communicating with others during a disaster:

“Is everyone okay?”: This expression is used to ask if everyone is safe and unharmed.

“Do you need any help?”: This expression is used to offer assistance to someone in need.

“What happened?”: This expression is used to ask for information about the situation.

“Where is the emergency shelter?”: This expression is used to ask for the location of a designated emergency shelter.

“What can I do to help?”: This expression is used to offer support and assistance.

“Can you repeat that, please?”: This expression is used to ask for clarification or repetition of information.

“Stay together”: This expression is used to advise people to stay together for safety and support.

“Call for help”: This expression is used to advise people to call for assistance in an emergency situation.

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Essential English for Raising Awareness and Support

Vocabulary for Asking for Help

Whether you’re an individual in need or an organization working to provide assistance, knowing how to effectively ask for help can make a significant impact on the recovery process.

Here are some key phrases to use when asking for help:

“We need your support”

“Please help us in [providing aid/meeting the needs of those affected]”

“Donations of [money/goods/volunteer time] are greatly appreciated”

“Your support can make a difference”

“Together, we can [make a positive impact/overcome this disaster]”

It’s also important to be specific about what type of help is needed, whether it’s monetary donations, physical goods, or volunteer time. This will make it easier for those offering support to understand how they can help and to ensure that resources are used effectively.

When asking for help, you should also be gracious and to express gratitude for any support received. You can use phrases such as “Thank you for your generosity,” “We appreciate your help,” and “Your support means a lot to those in need.”


Phrases for Communicating the Urgency of the Situation

In a disaster situation, we need to quickly and effectively communicate the urgency of the situation to those who can offer support. This can help ensure that resources are mobilized quickly and that those in need receive the help they need.

Here are some useful phrases to use when communicating the urgency of the situation:

“The situation is critical”

“People are in immediate danger”

“Time is of the essence”

“We need your help now”

“The need for [aid/assistance] is urgent”

You should provide specific details about the situation and the needs of those affected. This can help ensure that resources are used effectively and that the right type of aid is provided.

While it is crucial to communicate the urgency of the situation, you should do so in a responsible manner that doesn’t create unnecessary panic or distress. Use correct and reliable information and avoid spreading false or misleading information.


Expressions of Expressing Sympathy and Support

Expressing sympathy and support to those affected by a disaster can play a crucial role in the recovery process. Showing support can provide comfort and encouragement to those who are going through a difficult time and can help to raise morale.

Some common phrases you may hear or see on social media include: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”; “We’re here for you”; “We stand with you during this difficult time”; “We’re thinking of you”; “We hope you find strength in the support of those around you.”

However, more important that simply expressing sympathy is taking action to show your support, whether it’s making a donation, volunteering, or offering a service.

Final Thought

This episode of Thinking in English has been different. Rather than giving you advice or explaining something from the news, I decided to dedicate this episode to everyone trying to communicate about disaster situations in English.

I hope that maybe one person will find this episode useful and be able to use the contents to raise awareness, find support, and describe the devastation caused by natural disasters.

I’m going to leave more information about the disaster in Turkey and some links to donations in the description of the show, and I’ll also post some things on my social media and blog, so please check them out if you can and you want to help people affected by natural disasters.  

What Did You Think About This Episode?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

5 thoughts on “208. English for Disasters and Emergencies: Essential Language to Talk About and Survive Natural Disasters (English Vocabulary Episode)”
  1. Tom, you are so kind, thoughtful and sincere! This episode has a very sentimental value for me. Thank you. This devastating catastrophy is carved into all Turkish and Surian people minds with all people living on this planet. I strongly believe that your intention will be both helpful for many people concerning to do sth to touch theearthquake victims life but feels helpless in this process and also a proactive guide for the ones to be prepared for possible future disasters.

  2. Thank you. Like always, it was pretty helpful. I put on my headphones and read the transcript out loud simultaneously with you. It helps me to improve my fluency.
    There is one thing I’d like to add; this is not a complaint; it is only a friendly and kind comment, I genuinely appreciate your hard work to make awareness about natural disasters, but Syria is also affected by the earthquake and many years of war. Still, in this podcast, you mainly highlighted Turkey. Again I know this was not the point of your podcast, and the primary goal is the rising awareness about natural disasters worldwide.

  3. Hi, I’m from Turkey and have been listening to your podcasts for a while. You have a great, understandable accent. I want to Thank you for this episode especially, because you mentioned about the worst natural disaster that hit Turkey, and you also wanted people to donate for the earthquake. That is very sensible. And there is one funny thing that our government also wants to make donations and preparing special tv shows for it. Yesterday our government bank made a donation for the disaster. I want to say that our government is like a beggar begging for money and giving its money to itself again… The special taxes that we have been giving for the earthquakes are forgotten. I wanted you to know this weird situation in Turkey and those who read here…Thank you again, you’re great. I’m follıwing you on YouTube, Instagram and gave you five star rating on Spotify as a little Thank you 🙏🤗

  4. Hello, my name is Edgardo and I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    Excellent episode!!!
    Very useful and necessary since no one is exempt from experiencing an emergency situation.
    These notions should be taught in all schools.
    Also, your idea of ​​devoting an episode to this topic speaks highly of you as a person.

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