Since that time, the local recovery has been gradual but consistent thanks to a slew of civic, emergency, church and denominational organizations, as well as thousands of individual volunteers, who came together to help a staggered community to its feet.
Although the rebuild has been achieved long before most original estimates, the lessons learned have been vast. The local emergency response network was sorely tested, but it showed that Cleveland and Bradley County were prepared for disaster, according to Troy Spence, executive director of the Cleveland/Bradley Emergency Management Agency and who still fills a dual role as interim Bradley County fire chief.
Now that the local community has apparently reached what is most commonly described as its “New Normal,” Spence said the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, and another on March 2, 2012, have proven the need for all Bradley County residents to have an emergency plan in the event of such natural or manmade events.
The outbreak of tornadoes on April 27 two years ago left nine people dead in Bradley County. The day of terror locally began at 9 a.m. when a twister struck the No Pone Valley.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 292 tornadoes were counted in 16 states during the monstrous April 27, 2011, outbreak with an estimated 364 deaths. There were 758 tornadoes counted in that month alone. Coincidentally, April 1974 tornadoes claimed a life here too. That outbreak was No. 2 on the NOAA Storm Prediction Center list that noted 267 deadly twisters touched down.
Bradley County and Cleveland residents, as well as many other area folks, dug out from the storms that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.
Just recently, the Long-Term Recovery Organization, which was devised days after the storms, finally went into hibernation.
Homes were rebuilt or repaired, areas cleaned and needs met, large and small.
From tissues to towels, cookware to canned items, furnishings to appliances, the community came together as well as others from across the country … all to help.
Fundraisers were held to benefit the victims.
The Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross and Men and Women of Action fed the victims and Salvation Army collected goods for distribution. Demands were met. Many agencies, including the United Way of Bradley County were instrumental in the process.
According to Jim Polier, leader of the LTRO, there were thousands of volunteers from church ministries and others who came to help clear the mess left behind and get Bradley Countians back on their feet and into their homes.
More than $50 million in property damage was reported to Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency.
CBCEMA officials worked to keep everything and everyone organized in the effort of recovery, which began within 24 hours of the killer storms.
After the dust had settled and Federal Emergency Management Agency along with Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials had observed the efforts, FEMA praised the local agency for the organization and response to the devastation that had coursed approximately 35 miles through Bradley County.
Bradley County had five twisters touch down and several of those spun off other tornadoes.
At present, three new Bradley County firehalls have been equipped with safe rooms built to withstand 200 mph winds. Up to 400 people can fit into the areas that have been reinforced with concrete and steel.
Funding for the safe rooms came from a mitigation grant from FEMA.
“We wanted to design the new stations to maximize space and potential for the communities in which they are located,” said Spence.
Spence is also the director for Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency. CBCEMA was instrumental in recovery.
Spence said schools in the area are slated to have safe rooms added through FEMA grants. Walker Valley High School has already been approved, according to Spence.
Many individuals across the county have also installed prefabricated storm shelters and area builders have also begun instituting safe rooms in their new home designs.
Each safe room or shelter needs to be registered with CBCEMA as part of an individual safety plan to know where things are and who has them in place, according to officials.
Since the storms, hundreds of weather radios have been given away through programs and businesses.
“It seems we can never escape the threat of some type of extreme or severe weather in the Southeast during any given time of the year,” said Spence.
“CBCEMA will continue to help make our city and county prepared and be a National Weather Service ‘Storm-Ready’ community,” he added.
CBCEMA has also included Nixle.com as a messaging and warning system which can be accessed through cellphones or email.
For additional information regarding Nixle.com, visit www.bradleyco.net and click on the EMA web link, according to Spence.
Advisories, watches and warnings will be delivered to phones and computers if residents subscribe to the free service.
“We will continue to do all we can to keep our residents informed of impending situations and help save lives, and Nixle has been one of the best things we have,” Spence said.
“We inform. It’s up to individuals and families to establish safety plans to fit their needs. The CBCEMA page has a lot of good information on how to set up plans and offers tips for family members in case of [emergency] events,” Spence explained.
Many cities in the South, including Tuscaloosa, Ala., continue to rebuild after the Super Outbreak of 2011.