In six states alone — Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Kentucky — some 300 lives were taken in an onslaught of tornadoes and savage storms that left homes splintered and widespread power outages impacting hundreds of thousands while so very many stood dazed among the ruins mourning the loss of loved ones.
Sadly, the numbers will go up.
Tennessee has confirmed more than 30 dead, nine of whom were Bradley County residents.
Some have called it the worst natural disaster to befall this area in the history of our Cleveland and Bradley County community.
Some have compared it to the tornado outbreak of April 1974, another murderous rampage that leveled neighborhoods and took innocent lives; yet its impact was concentrated to isolated areas. On Wednesday and the night of terror that ensued, virtually every corner of Bradley County came under assault from a seemingly unending wave of storms.
It is an inexplicable act.
It is a quandary of the mind, heart and soul.
It is a somber and tragic tale of man’s frailty in the face of insurmountable force.
It is a mystery whose resolution lies not in numbers and percentages but in human response.
And Bradley County is responding.
Our hearts are broken. But our will is not.
Lives have been uprooted like the trees that once gave them comforting shade.
Dreams have been shattered.
But our resilience has withstood an ageless test of time.
Amid the jungle of debris and vast battlegrounds coated in despair, area residents in Cleveland, Charleston and throughout Bradley County are coming together.
As we have done before.
As all knew we could — and would — do again.
Our homes have been swept away, their remnants spread across miles of green acreage.
Our neighbors’ lives have been taken, their survivors left with the cause of comforting their own.
Our spirits have been dampened, their mindsets bent on recovery and return to normalcy.
Yet among the devastation, perhaps hidden within the piles of debris, lies a hope eternal.
Houses are nails and lumber. They will be rebuilt.
Businesses operate with lock and key. Their doors will reopen.
Dreams are a vision. They will be put on hold, redirected and then regained.
Lives lost will leave their survivors a legacy, one whose memory resounds strength, fortitude and a level of courage once unimaginable.
Let no one doubt the extreme of the human spirit.
Let no one question the power of the mind and the heart when shared causes unite.
One should not ponder if our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown can recover.
One should ask only, “How can I help?
The help has already started.
More is on the way.
People are people, no matter their size, shape, age, gender, race, belief or culture.
People care for people.
Because that’s just what they do.
And that’s what they do well in our community.
Hold your head high, Bradley County.
Keep your chin up, Cleveland, Charleston, McDonald and all points in between.
We were dealt a savage blow.
And we were knocked to the deck.
Now we get up.
And we rebuild.