Recovery continues to dot our hometown’s reshaped horizon in the aftermath of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes whose memory will never fade completely from the hearts and minds of those most affected.
The latest indicator of a welcomed brand of normalcy came recently with the announcement by the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization that Thursday, May 31, has been declared the official deadline for anyone still in need of assistance from last year’s devastating storms. Once this date has come and gone, LTRO assistance will be unavailable for April 27 victims.
After May 31, LTRO will deepen its focus on helping families caught in the path of the March 2 twister which ripped a path of destruction from the county’s southwest corner to its northeast sector. This was a lone EF-2 twister that wreaked major damage upon our community, yet its overall impact paled in comparison to the tragedies that befell our people last April.
The March 2 tornado, which assaulted parts of Bradley County after having demolished areas of the Harrison and Ooltewah areas, destroyed six homes locally and damaged many others, but the April 27 tragedy claimed 285 homes and seriously damaged hundreds of others. But most tragically, last year’s funnels took nine human lives.
Since its formation shortly after the April 27 storms, LTRO has played a central role in Bradley County’s rebound, and has worked closely with organizational, faith-based and individual partners to keep the momentum flowing. Just a few of these teams who have played — and continue to play — pivotal roles include the Bradley Baptist Association, Church of God Men and Women of Action, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, Ocoee Region Builders Association, the Cleveland Corps of the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, United Way of Bradley County, Cleveland Cleanup, Community Action Network, scores and scores of chainsaw gangs, and so many others.
Truthfully, it is almost impossible to list all the players whose hands and hearts have closely touched the Bradley County recovery. And what about all those hundreds of volunteers who traveled from great distances to assist Cleveland area families? Most were strangers to our local residents, but each one came to Bradley County with a personal quest and a defined mission — to help those in unprecedented times of need who, if given the opportunity, would likely do the same for them.
Although May 31 is now an official LTRO deadline for help, the organization will remain in existence for the foreseeable future. It will continue its ongoing efforts in response to the March 2 tornado.
Matt Carlson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland who has co-chaired the LTRO’s work for the past year, said it best when he told our newspaper, “As an organization, we want to be making sure that we have helped as many people as possible. With the one-year anniversary behind us, it is important to be mindful of completing the work from last April and focus on work from the March 2 storms.”
Obviously, looking across Bradley County tells a story — that much work remains to be done. Dense forests on private property were destroyed and remain to be cleared. Yet, organizations like Cleveland Cleanup and CAN, as well as individual property owners and neighborhood associations, are tackling it using the impressive power of volunteers. At the recent Day of Service activity held April 28, more than 300 unpaid workers joined the local crusade to continue our community’s rebound.
This volunteer spirit will remain the backbone of our recovery for years to come.
In many cases, felled trees likely will decay over the years in the same spots they met their horrendous fate. But most neighborhoods will be cleared and fresh firewood will heat the homes of thousands of Bradley County residents for an untold number of winters to come.
But as we near the close of our 13th month since these grievous tragedies, it is no longer a question of how much is left to do.
Instead, it is a statement of fact of how far we have come.