Australia’s child survivors struggle to cope

BUXTON, Australia (AP) âÄî The crayon colors on the page were bright âÄî orange, red, sunny yellow. But the drawings were as dark as the blackened remains of the landscape near the tiny Australian schoolhouse. Inside, 9-year-old Phillip Watt pressed a finger to each image and remembered what he saw on that day when his town, his house, his beloved bicycle were destroyed in AustraliaâÄôs deadliest wildfires. Here was the family car racing away from the blaze. There were the red and orange flames chewing up the gum trees. He pointed to a creature lying on the road. âÄúThatâÄôs a cow,âÄù he said steadily. âÄúA dead cow.âÄù PhillipâÄôs classroom was plastered with pictures like these âÄî each scribble and swirl a therapeutic purging of a childâÄôs memory from the disastrous day that took at least 201 lives and destroyed more than 1,800 homes in southeastern Australia. The psychological toll on these boys and girls will be formidable, experts say, similar to the reactions children had following major traumas such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. âÄúFire, like waves in water, obeys no rules,âÄù said Dr. Lynne Rubin, a founding member of the New York Disaster Counseling Coalition, which helped children after the 9/11 attacks. That, she said, âÄúis particularly terrifying to kids.âÄù ChildrenâÄôs reactions range from sleeplessness to nightmares to post-traumatic stress disorder.