published Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Cleveland group coordinates volunteer cleanup efforts

  • photo
    Mary and James Huff wrestle furniture out the front door of their Tacoma Drive home in Cleveland Saturday morning to make some working space for a volunteer crew dispatched to help from the Bradley Baptist Association.
    Photo by Randall Higgins.
    enlarge photo

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- People on Tacoma Drive woke up Saturday morning, and like many others across the Chattanooga region went to work.

Volunteer crews assembled at the Bradley Baptist Association office to get directions on where their chain saws, backhoes and muscles were needed most.

It didn't take long for the calls for help to begin rolling in.

"We already have over 30 locations," said Phil Taylor, director of missions for the association. It was 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes after the office opened for phone calls.

One of the volunteers was Steve Johnson. He had never volunteered before. But in September 2011, while everyone else was recovering from floods, his house was hit with high winds.

"They [volunteers] spent two days clearing stuff away. They even had diesel equipment to cut a tree off my house. They saved my life," Johnson said as he waited for an assignment.

"I said then, if we ever have another storm, the least I can do is come help," he said.

The toll in Bradley County included six homes destroyed, 13 with major damage and 20 more with moderate damage, emergency management officials said at midday Saturday.

Estimates placed Bradley County's total damage at $2.1 million.

The storm damaged 15 homes in neighboring Polk County, three severely, civil defense director Stephen M. Lofty said.


Bradley Baptist Association has begun cleanup/tarping in the affected areas. Those needing assistance should call 423-476-5493.


• Open burning: Bradley County's permit requirement for open burning has been lifted for county residents affected by the storm. Trees, brush and nonhazardous materials can be burned on private property.

• Pickup: City Manager Janice Casteel reminds city residents to separate brush from storm debris and place it by the curb. City crews will pick it up as soon as possible.

Two storms tracked through the Linsdale community in northwestern Polk around noon Friday, Lofty said. Evening storms knocked down trees and cut power in Reliance and Greasy Creek, but no home damage was reported as of midday Saturday.

Lofty said damage estimates will come after he and Tennessee Emergency Management officials reviewed the homes Saturday afternoon.

Neighbors turn out

Blaine "Peanut'' Lawson was one of Friday's storm victims receiving the help Saturday.

He stood in the middle of the soggy mess that once had been his family's kitchen and dining room before the ceiling collapsed Friday evening.

"Like they always say, it roars, and then there was this big, loud bang," Johnson recalled. "I saw chairs flying across the porch and I said, 'Boy, we are in trouble now.'"

Daughter Lori Lawson had gone to an absent neighbor's house to check on the neighbor's pets. She just had a feeling her parents' home was about to be hit, so she started back, on foot.

"I saw a lot of stuff flying through the air. It was really loud," she said.

As the Lawsons and their neighbors milled about through the neighborhood debris, a student group from Lee University stopped to help with whatever was needed. Larry Miller, a retired pastor representing Operation Compassion, stopped, too.

Lawson thanked them all but wanted his insurance agent to see things first.

A block away on Tacoma Drive, Mary and James Huff were moving furniture out their front door to make room for a volunteer crew coming to help them put a tarp over the roof and clean up debris.

The Huffs were following the storm reports on television Friday evening.

"They said we've got a tornado right here," Huff said. "The dot was right over our house. We took off for the hallway and made it halfway before we heard all the noise."

Correspondent Paul Leach contributed to this story.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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