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Disaster at Buffalo Creek. Family and character change at Buffalo Creek
Am J Psychiatry 1976;133:295-299.
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Abstract

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.

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