EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH: The Human Effect of the Buffalo Creek Flood by Kai T. Erikson

EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH: The Human Effect of the Buffalo Creek Flood

Email this review


At 8 a.m. on February 26, 1972 a makeshift dam broke in West Virginia, sending a wall of black water and debris crashing into the Buffalo Creek hollow. It was a disaster which, Erikson argues, irretrievably maimed the survivors. Along with Robert Lifton and an army of psychiatrists, Erikson was brought to Buffalo Creek by the law firm representing the plaintiffs. Gerald Stern, the chief counsel, has already written about the devastation and the legal stratagems with a lawyer's characteristic precision and uncharacteristic involvement (The Buffalo Creek Disaster, p. 303). Erikson probes further into the individual and collective trauma of those who survived. The two books overlap considerably but Erikson is specifically concerned with the ""loss of communality"" which left the people apathetic, fearful, and disoriented. In psychiatric terms, the ""disaster syndrome"" is well known; Erikson suggests that the people of Appalachia, so mutually dependent within their remote communities, were especially susceptible. For these people in these circumstances, moreover, the human resiliency which normally heals and restores did not assert itself. ""Practically everyone seems despondent and undecided. . . . We can't put it all together. We try but it just isn't there. . . ."" The theme echoes again and again. Erikson shies away from theory, although he seems to want to say much more about the circumstances under which trauma becomes chronic and irreversible. For one thing, the trailer camps created ""a holding pattern of dislocation."" Very tentatively, Erikson builds our understanding of the survivor mentality and the ongoing bereavement for which there is no solace.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Simon & Schuster