Three who could not attend Friday’s observances of the one-year anniversary of the devastating tornadoes of April 27, 2011, were members of the Bradley County legislative delegation who forwarded their thoughts, prayers and support to Cleveland and Bradley County residents who participated in the weekend’s variety of memorial activities.
Among the events were a volunteer luncheon Friday hosted by the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization, an LTRO home dedication, the Recovery 2012 community service at Conn Center and later Friday evening the candlelight vigil held at Waterville Community Elementary School in honor of all nine victims of last year’s storms and their families.
The weekend of activities closed with Saturday’s ‘Day of Service’ in which volunteers worked in all corners of the community to complete ongoing storm-recovery projects.
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville who represents the 9th Senatorial District, and State Reps. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, and Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, were still in Nashville conducting business in the state Senate and House of Representatives. But each offered his thoughts to Bradley County’s impacted families in messages to the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“As I drive around the 9th Senatorial District (Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties), the scars on the land from the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, are still very evident,” Bell said. “Even though we might not be able to see the scars on the people of our area, we know those scars are still there as well. I hope as the people of Tennessee gather this Sunday to worship, they will continue to remember the families who lost loved ones last year.”
Bell reflected on his own experiences from last April.
“What I remember most about that day was the helpless feeling I had as I sat in the Judiciary Committee in Nashville, and I started getting text messages from my daughters telling me the power was out and the storm was very bad,” the senator reminisced. “I immediately went to a weather site on the Internet and saw the numerous storm cells around our area. I texted them back and told them to get in the basement and not to come out until I tell them it’s OK. As it turned out, the tornadoes missed our house by a few hundred yards.”
He added, “I had no idea of the extent of the devastation the people of Southeast Tennessee had suffered until the next morning.”
Brooks said he approached the one-year observation with a heavy heart because he personally knows so many Bradley County families who were impacted by the storms.
“As we remember those we lost a year ago, our hearts are heavy for those who lost family members, friends and neighbors on April 27, 2011,” Brooks said. “At the same time, as we recall the events of April 27, my heart is filled with gratitude for the hundreds of first responders, friends, neighbors, even strangers who responded with haste and help to anyone in need in Bradley County.”
He added, “Many have often heard me say what an honor it is to represent the amazing people of Bradley County and Cleveland. It was overwhelming to see so many rush to the aid of those in need in our community. Although we still have more work yet before us, we have come a long way since last April.”
Brooks reassured victims of the most recent storm — the March 2 tornado that tore through Bradley County from its southwest corner to the northeast — that legislators in the 107th General Assembly have adopted the Tornado Tax Relief Bill, the same type of action that was taken by state lawmakers following last year’s tornadoes.
“When natural disasters hit our families, we must all work together not to have manmade disasters such as tax burdens or time delays,” he stressed. “Thankfully, we have rebuilt much of the damage suffered in the storms; however, we cannot rebuild or replace the void felt by those who lost family members and friends. We are all members of the family of God, and my prayer is that the Lord will bless and keep those who still feel the pain of loss from the storms.”
Watson joined Brooks in assuring March 2 tornado victims that state legislators last week approved the Tornado Tax Relief Bill and that its intent is to be of help to storm survivors just like last year’s legislation did.
Like Bell and Brooks, Watson also offered his support to local families during the one-year observance, one whose pain is doubled for him because he could not be in Bradley County for the emotional events.
“A year has come and gone, and in time there is healing, but this kind of pain requires a gradual process,” Watson said. “No one can overcome this kind of shock, and loss, overnight and especially not our Bradley County families who paid the ultimate price — the loss of loved ones.”
The legislator added, “I join my colleagues, and my friends Mike Bell and Kevin Brooks, in offering my support and prayers to all Bradley County families, and to our community as a whole. We have come a long way in a year’s time. We yet have far to go. But we’ll get there, as long as we work together and provided we continue an ongoing Bradley County motto of ‘neighbor helping neighbor.’ Of that happening, I have no doubt.”
Watson offered his best wishes to those attending Friday’s LTRO luncheon and the Yarber family home dedication, as well as his prayers for attendees at Recovery 2012 and the Evelyn Johnson-inspired candlelight vigil at Waterville Community Elementary School. Also, he offered “an endearing thank you” to all area residents who showed up Saturday for the Day of Service recovery work.