— Ralph Waldo Emerson
American Poet (1803-1882)
A hometown that has never failed to reach out to help others in their darkest hour is now finding itself reaching deep within to rebound from what some are calling the worst natural disaster in the history of our Cleveland, Charleston and Bradley County community.
None need try to make sense of the senseless tragedies that befell our home Wednesday in broad daylight and hours later in the dense abyss of a nightfall whose death grip likely will haunt the memories of its survivors for years to come.
One can reason.
One can question.
One can ask, “Why?”
But answers are as scant as their queries are long. Most Bradley Countians already know this to be true, even those families, friends and loved ones of the nine dead in the county. Even those who brought into this world the innocent 3-month-old infant who is counted today among the victims of Wednesday’s merciless storms.
For the families who lost loved ones on that day and throughout the terrifying evening that followed, their time of peace will be slow in coming. But they will not mourn alone, because an entire community stands at their side, a people whose outreach is as natural as the summer sun.
It started Wednesday morning, hours before the second, third, fourth and fifth waves of fury landed their terror onto Bradley County soil.
Hardly had the dust settled from the midmorning tornado before Cleveland residents, Bradley County service organizations, entire blocks of residents, civic groups and area churches were already rushing to the support and rescue of their neighbors whose lives were twisted by a disaster the likes of which they had never before known.
As the second wave of storms assaulted other portions of the county by midafternoon, the community effort gained in momentum
Nightfall brought some of the cruelest onslaughts on human life, but its rage merely raised the resolve of Bradley Countians who refused to turn their backs on those in need.
The outpouring of support was as massive as the storms were devastating.
Churches opened their doors as shelters of refuge.
Civic organizations launched internal drives to help not only the families of their membership but anyone desperate for a comforting human touch.
Individuals rushed to area grocery stores to buy food for families who were suddenly homeless.
Radio personalities tirelessly broadcast community information for hours upon hours while working to connect helping groups with those groups that needed help.
Restaurants gave away free food to the hungry who had lost their homes while feeding volunteers and emergency workers who risked their own lives in hopes of saving the lives of others.
Law enforcement officers found ways to wrest calm from chaos.
Emergency crews — ambulance, fire and fire/rescue, among others — worked through the Wednesday night waves of disaster to rescue victims and transport them to hospitals and shelters of safe haven.
Residents whose workplaces were closed for the day directed their time to volunteerism in support of search-and-rescue operations, road-clearing and traffic direction.
Schools aided other schools.
Businesses provided deep discounts for their wares and products that could be used in recovery operations.
Chainsaw owners volunteered their backs, time and muscle for the benefit of those whose paths they had never before crossed.
Groups of school students organized as volunteers and worked together to clear debris and clean yards.
Wednesday’s marauding storms devastated a community and tested its resolve.
But its spirit stayed strong.
Its people came together.
And its heart light glittered like an eternal flame.
Bradley County took an undeserved beating this week.
But Bradley Countians weathered the storm.
Just as they have in days gone by.
Just as they will in days ahead.