In a matter of minutes their long-term plans, such as summer vacations, were changed. Storm survivors began thinking about the short-term needs of food, water, shelter and clothing. Self-preservation and caring for the immediate needs of family, friends and neighbors were moved to the top of the priority list.
As the morning dawned on April 28, an amazing thing happened. We watched as the community responded with thousands of individual volunteers. Relief agencies mobilized, businesses began to underwrite specific needs and churches began feeding and clothing distribution programs. The Bradley County Emergency Management Agency and other emergency response agencies began a joint effort of caring for the immediate needs of those affected by the storms.
The coordinated effort was so impressive that the regional TEMA official called it “a textbook response” to the disaster. FEMA officials were also complimentary and informed the Long-Term Recovery Organization that Bradley County will be used by FEMA as a “best practices” example for other communities to follow when disaster strikes. They commended the EMA and the entire community for a superb disaster response.
As county mayor, I understand how resilient our citizens are. We live in an extraordinary community and our citizens are self-starters who know how to get things done.
The storms took a financial toll on many citizens as well as the city and county governments. The cost for debris and brush removal so far is placed at $2,376,236.89. About $1.6 million was spent by Bradley County. Approximately $725,000 was spent by the city of Cleveland. This does not include costs incurred by the Bradley County School System, utility companies or individuals whose homes were destroyed or damaged.
The FEMA-controlled cleanup from the April 27 storms is over. It began on May 13 and ended on July 15. Public safety hazards left by the storms have been dealt with and removed. FEMA officials have completed their survey of the damaged areas and identified the tree stumps and other brush that qualified for removal under their guidelines.
Affected residents who may still have storm-related brush or debris on their property will need to work with their insurance adjuster or make other arrangements for cleaning it up. Once the FEMA cutoff deadline has passed, officials say the scattered cases become the responsibility of the homeowner.
I have had reports that some storm-damaged properties are being neglected by their owners while a neighbor next door may be working hard to rebuild. In such cases, if the debris becomes an eyesore or attracts rodents, county environmental officer Mike Hughes should be called. His number is (423) 595-4116.
It has been almost four months since the tornadoes raked across Bradley County. The focus now is the community's long-term recovery and rebuilding. The Long-Term Recovery Organization, under the direction of Jim Polier, is doing a good job of assigning resources and volunteers for the task ahead. The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (“Green Shirts”) has completed its needs assessment of those affected by the storms. Case Manager Supervisor Lisa Mantooth will now begin working with volunteer case managers to determine the level of assistance each family will need.
Recovery from the disaster is far from over. I am grateful for each individual volunteer, relief agency, church, civic organization and business that has expressed interest in assisting in the recovery effort. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact the LTRO office by emailing bradleyLTRO@gmail.com.