We refer to the time-tested adage, “Seeing is believing.”
It rang true in the lives of Southeast Tennessee legislators who were whisked to their home communities and districts by Gov. Bill Haslam’s helicopter in the immediate aftermath of the April 27 tornadoes and storms.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland who serves as assistant majority leader in the House of Representatives, recounted his experiences during the recent annual banquet of the Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross. The Cleveland legislator delivered the keynote address.
In Thursday’s edition, we spoke of his words of appreciation to the Red Cross volunteers. The local lawmaker also offered some personal insight which we revisit today.
One such perspective was the “Seeing is believing” mindset.
The day following the devastating Wednesday storms, the 107th General Assembly adjourned early to allow legislative delegation members to return to their families as quickly as possible. To expedite their travel, the governor offered use of his helicopter to legislators representing the state’s hardest-hit region — Southeast Tennessee.
Rep. Brooks was one such legislator.
He had already received multiple news accounts in Nashville and had received many personal phone calls advising him of the severity of the damage that an unprecedented five waves of tornadoes had brought to Cleveland and Bradley County within a terrifying 12-hour time frame.
One of his incoming calls was from former State Sen. Dewayne Bunch, who Brooks quoted as saying, “It’s bad. Where is your family?”
Because of vast news coverage and countless telephone updates, Brooks thought he was prepared.
But he was not.
From the aerial vantage of the governor’s helicopter, he shuddered as the aircraft grew closer and closer to Bradley County.
“I will never forget for as long as I live, when I looked down and saw what was left of Willbrook, Highway 64 and Bates Pointe,” Brooks told a congregation of volunteers at the Red Cross gathering. “But seeing it from up in the sky, it truly did change my life.”
The roots of his life-changing experience grew even deeper as he personally walked through the devastation on Archer Lane, Willbrook and other annihilated neighborhoods.
The stark reality that the storms had taken nine lives in Bradley County was even more emotionally wrenching.
“Our hearts break with each of those families,” the legislator offered.
He addressed an even more alarming perspective. The nine lost lives in 12 hours equaled all of the weather-related deaths combined in Bradley County since the National Weather Service began keeping these statistics in 1950.
The same is true in monetary damage. The estimated $48 million in Bradley County property losses is more than all the monetary damage from weather within the last 61 years.
“In one day our lives were changed,” Brooks declared. “In one day my life was changed.”
Too often the eyes must see what the heart already knows in order to capture the full impact of a circumstance.
Similar stories were told later by Haslam as he personally inspected the devastation that befell much of Southeast Tennessee.
Almost exact accounts were provided by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland as he too witnessed the Bradley County carnage.
And the same is true for Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.
Each was already aware.
Yet all needed to see.
With their own eyes.
It is our prayer they will never look upon such atrocities again.
But if they do, the sobering adage again will surface.
Seeing is believing.