Children of Disaster in the Second Decade: A 17-Year Follow-up of Buffalo Creek Survivors

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To conduct a long-term follow-up of child survivors of a devastating human-caused disaster.


Child survivors (2–15) of the Buffalo Creek dam collapse, first evaluated in 1974, 2 years postdisaster, were reevaluated 17 years postdisaster when they were adults. Of the original 207 children, 99 were located and reevaluated using ratings on the Psychiatric Evaluation Form, the Impact of Event Scale, and the SCL-90 and lifetime and current diagnoses from the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R.


Ratings of psychiatric symptoms at the two points in time showed significant decreases in overall severity ratings and in anxiety, belligerence, somatic concerns, and agitation. A few symptoms, not present in the child sample, increased over time (substance abuse, suicidal ideation). The current rate of disaster-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was 7%, down from a postflood rate of 32%. There were no differences by age group in current psychological status; however, women evidenced more PTSD-related symptoms than did men. All current PTSD cases were women. Comparisons with similar subjects from a nonexposed community showed no differences.


The findings indicated that the children studied, although having shown earlier effects, had “recovered” from the event by the time of long-term follow-up.

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