Spanish Terms for Natural Disasters & Emergencies

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  • 0:41 Cognates
  • 2:51 Non-Cognates
  • 4:20 Practica
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: April Schmidt

April has a Ph.D. in Spanish and has taught college-level Spanish for 10+ years.

Natural disasters and emergencies around the world frequently make headlines, so it's good to know how to talk about them in Spanish. In this lesson, you will learn words like earthquake, flood, fire, explosion and evacuate.

Desastres Naturales y Emergencias

Open a newspaper or click on Yahoo or Google News and you'll probably see a headline about a natural disaster or an emergency somewhere: an earthquake in California, a hurricane in the Caribbean, a pipeline explosion in New York City, or a house fire in your town. In this lesson, you'll be learning vocabulary related to these situations, so you'll be able to understand and talk about emergencies and natural disasters in Spanish! This set of vocabulary is especially easy to remember because many of the words are cognates - words that are the same or nearly the same in both Spanish and English.


Let's look at some of the cognates and see if you can guess what they mean.

  • la explosión - The word for explosión is almost identical in Spanish and English. The only difference is that it's written with an accent mark and pronounced a bit differently in Spanish.
  • el huracán - The word for 'hurricane' is very similar. In fact, if you check the dictionary, you'll see that the English word was borrowed from Spanish!
  • la causa - Although the word 'cause' sounds quite a bit different, there's only a letter's difference in how the two words are spelled.
  • la captura - Again, only one letter's difference between this word and 'capture.'
  • el ataque - While the Spanish word for 'attack' is spelled and pronounced a little differently, it's pretty easy to guess what it means.
  • el refugio - This word would sound more like 'refuge' if 'g' weren't pronounced like 'h' in it, but the two words still look a lot the same.
  • el héroe - Again, this word doesn't sound very much like the English word 'hero,' but the spelling is almost identical.
  • la inundación - Although it doesn't look like the English word 'flood,' it's similar to a word for flood that is usually used in a metaphorical sense. If you say you're inundated with emails or phone calls or projects at work, you're saying that you're flooded with them.

Here are some verbs that are often used to talk about emergencies and natural disasters. These verbs are also cognates.

  • ocurrir - Looks just like 'occur,' except that (in addition to the -ir ending) it has one c and two r's, instead of two c's and one r, like in English.
  • extinguir - Of course, it starts out just like 'extinguish.'
  • evacuar - Looks a lot like 'evacuate.'
  • destruir - Starts out like 'destroy.'
  • sofocar - Is pretty close to 'suffocate.'


Some words that are not cognates are also frequently used when talking about natural disasters and emergencies. The following nouns and adjectives do not look like English words with similar meanings, so it's harder to remember them. However, a couple of the words still have something memorable about them!

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