On the “bitter” side, it is a reminder of the undeserved travesty that befell our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown on April 27, 2011, when five devastating beasts roared through our community, and another tornado of equally horrifying dimensions stormed in almost a year later on March 2, 2012.
The first series of monsters — whose sheer terror local residents were forced to endure for 12 long hours — took nine human lives, destroyed 285 homes and severely damaged some 300 others, while inflicting minor to medium dishevel on hundreds of others. Totaled, the twisters — whose power ranged from EF-0 to EF-4 — left $50 million worth of destruction in their wake.
A year later, an EF-2 funnel swept across Bradley County, entering the southwest corner from Harrison Bay and churning its way through several populated areas before exiting along the northeast sector. While mercifully taking no human lives, the tornado ravaged almost $5 million worth of homes and property.
These events were the “bitter” in our memories that resurface with the standing down of the much-beloved LTRO.
On the “sweet” side of the LTRO goodbye, we are reminded of the heartfelt, nerve-steadying and hand-holding good that this community-born organization has brought to our people over the past two years. Its birth is credited to the combined outreach of government leaders, emergency service organizations and civic-minded nonprofits who came together when their leadership was needed most.
LTRO’s creation was blessed by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. The organization earned a charter and 501(c)(3) status, and participants went about the quiet duty of rebuilding our town and restoring the hope of its residents, some of whom had lost not only their homes, property and loved ones but their lifelong dreams of a better day and a promised time.
LTRO wasn’t just an entity. LTRO embraced the very spirit of a people.
LTRO was Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland.
LTRO was Men and Women of Action.
LTRO was Bradley Baptist Disaster Relief.
LTRO was People for Care & Learning.
LTRO was the Hiwassee Region of the American Red Cross.
LTRO was the Salvation Army-Cleveland Corps.
LTRO was United Way of Bradley County.
LTRO was the Chamber of Commerce.
LTRO was our news media.
LTRO was our churches.
LTRO was our businesses.
LTRO was our schools.
LTRO was thousands upon thousands of big-hearted volunteers who cried with their neighbors in the path of such disaster, yet whose firm grips of support and hugs of empathy made a defining difference in living through those heartbreaks of the day and evolving them into a belief in the bright light of tomorrow.
LTRO was anyone.
LTRO was everyone.
LTRO was what people do when other people need help.
LTRO epitomized the yearning deep within the hearts of all who count themselves as Cleveland and Bradley County residents to live a life dedicated to serving as their neighbor’s keeper and to stand strong in the face of peril.
In its time, LTRO and its life-changing partners rebuilt 11 homes from the ground, repaired 30, worked directly with 144 Cleveland families and provided varying forms of assistance to help meet the unmet needs of more than 35,000 area households and individuals. Another LTRO partner, Whirlpool Corporation whose manufacturing and call center divisions played significant roles in our town’s recovery, provided new appliances to more than 60 families who had lost their life’s possessions.
And now, almost regrettably, LTRO has entered this time of hibernation, meaning its work is done. But, its charter and bank account remain active. Should disaster again fly in the face of our hometown, requiring future declarations at the local, state or federal levels, we will be better prepared and we will have learned from life’s most painful teacher — tragedy.
We pay tribute to the leadership of Jim Polier, LTRO recovery director, and Lisa Mantooth, case manager supervisor, who served their community and who served it well.
Yet, LTRO wasn’t about the incredible work of one, nor of two.
LTRO was about the power of people working together and the strength of their tireless human spirit.