Psychiatric evaluation teams used observations of family interaction and
psychoanalytically oriented individual interviews to study the
psychological aftereffects of the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster, a tidal wave
of sludge and black water released by the collapse of a slag waste dam.
Traumatic neurotic reactions were found in 80% of the survivors. Underlying
the clinical picture were unresolved grief, survivor shame, and feelings of
impotent rage and hopelessness. These clinical findings had persisted for
the two years since the flood, and a definite symptom complex labeled the
"Buffalo Creek syndrome" was pervasive. The methods used by the survivors
to cope with the overwhelming impact of the disaster--first-order defenses,
undoing, psychological conservatism, and dehumanization--actually preserved
their symptoms and caused disabling character changes.