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NOT a few people have commented that thousands of lives need not have perished during the HAGUPIT of typhoon Yolanda if they had been told what a “storm surge” means, what it implies and how it’s a danger to them. Jullie Yap DazaThey say that if the residents of Tacloban had expected the water to rise from the sea without an earthquake, the fear of being swallowed by hungry tsunami-like waves might have saved them.

We’ll never be sure. For one thing, did meteorologists actually predict a storm surge? Can they? When they did, was there enough time to remove men, women, children and animals from the coastline of Leyte, along Palo, where MacArthur landed to fulfill his promise to return?

Undeniably, the power of words underlies the power of communication. I heard so many Tagalog words on Jessica Soho’s newscast, words apparently referring to the terrible consequences of the storm, words I had never heard before, words I did not understand except that, like listening to the Italian or German lyrics of an opera, no one really needs to know what words mean when their meaning can be understood in context and by their sound. Thus I wrote down these words and marvelled at their onomatopoeic qualities: TUMAMBAD. NASALANTA. KASAGSAGAN. And the most dramatic and sensational of them all, in a manner of speaking, HAGUPIT.

Hanging on to the news anchor’s every word in hopes of catching more new words, I was sorry that my lesson was interrupted by a commercial break, forcing me to switch to CNN. There, in English, the reporter summarized the KASAGSAGAN and HAGUPIT in three words: “intense human suffering.” Strong words, but lacking in gravity and aural impact.

Pilipino or Tagalog, the language is so graphic in conveying words to represent heavy events like tragedies, but what’s the word for “looting”? I didn’t learn its equivalent in Tagalog from TV, I only heard “nakaw” – to steal – and its usage as a noun and in referring to the doer of the deed, but nothing suggesting looting as, well, the act of looting.