It has been about seven months since a powerful tornado ripped through the small panhandle town of Happy, Texas. It was classified as an F-2 tornado, not the most powerful, but still capable of considerable destruction. In the end, the tornado damaged 45 homes, killed two and left Happy's largest church without a roof.
Today, the community is still picking up the pieces. The town of Happy has been trying to restore joy to the lives of its residents. Rebuilding in the small town about 90 miles north of Lubbock has not been easy, especially for the First Baptist Church.
At the First Baptist Church in Happy, construction is now ahead of schedule. "We guessed we'd be out of our building for at least a year, but now it's looking like if all goes well, we'll be back in the building around Easter time," says Pastor Paul Burwash. That is impressive considering what the church went through last May.
First the May 5, 2002 tornado tore the roof off the education wing of the church. Two weeks later, on May 23, 2002, with the new roof almost complete, a construction worker accidentally set the church on fire with a torch. "Tornadoes are shocking and devastating, but fires are much worse. We sat here and had to watch the church burn for hours. The tornado came in and within 15 minutes it was gone," says Pastor Burwash.
Across the street, longtime Happy resident Johnny Parker remembers May 2002 as Happy's saddest month ever. "We had no idea what the Lord had in store for us," says Parker. Parker took pictures of the fire, and although he saw the tornado, there would be no time to take pictures of it.
Parker and his wife were busy finding shelter. "She got in the closet and I got down on the floor between the bed and the wall. I kinda pulled the mattress out a little bit. Not that that was any smarter than anything else, but I didn't know what else to do," says Parker.
Parker says the tornado came and went in less than 30 seconds. "All of a sudden it just got quiet. And we rushed out and we could see the tornado going down this back street over here."
The tornado cut a path along the southern edge of Happy. It killed a couple from Mexico. Their 10 year-old son survived and has since moved back to Mexico with family. Relief for survivors arrived quickly from across the state and around the globe. Just recently, Federal Relief Funds started coming in, and the town is slowly putting the pieces back together.
Thousands of dollars from private donations and Federal Relief Funds are helping to put families who lost everything back into homes. Restoration of one will be complete in a few weeks. It is a familiar house to Lubbockites. That is because it was bought from Reese Air Force Base. Just one of several base homes on the way from Lubbock to Happy.
Pastor Paul Burwash says support for the community has been outstanding. His church is even getting a new organ, donated by Johanus Organ Manufacturers in Holland. That is something Happy residents are just tickled about. "That group from Holland came in and we're just amazed," says Burwash. And it won't be long now before Happy is in seventh heaven once again. "We can't be any more pleased with what's happening right now," says Burwash.
Right now, members of the First Baptist Church are packing into the Presbyterian church for Sunday services. Pastor Burwash says although Federal dollars are now being distributed, some families are still in need of additional assistance. If you would like to contribute to the Happy Disaster Relief fund, you can do that by contacting First State Bank of Happy, Canyon, or Amarillo.