Ridgecrest helps Oklahoma family with local roots

Ann Cousineau

Ridgecrest helps Oklahoma family with local rootsIWV Football and Cheer teams are gearing up for a big day, only this time it won’t involve sports. When they get together Saturday morning, they’ll be on a mission to raise as much money as they can by washing cars to help “one of their own”— a family that lost everything it owned in the May 20 killer tornado in Oklahoma.

See related fundraiser story.

This week finds Phillip and Laurinda Vargyas struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of a devastating tornado that turned their lives upside down.

When they left for Oklahoma less than a year ago, they left Navy life behind, along with active community service that included steady support of the IWV youth sports.

Laurinda is originally from Ridgecrest, a member of the Lowe family. She met Phil when he was stationed here in the Navy. When he retired, he accepted a job as an information technology manager in Oklahoma. He is originally from Texas, and his family is still there.

There’s no way they could have known then that their suburban world in Moore, Okla., would be tossed in fierce winds that not only twisted and smashed their home and vehicles, but also took the lives of their two youngest children.

Their little girls, Karrina, 4, and Sydnee, 7 months, are among the youngest declared dead in the suburb of Moore. At the end of last week, the death toll stood at 24, including nine children.

Phil was at work when Laurinda and her mother sought safety in the bathtub shortly after receiving the 16-minute warning of the imminent tornado coming their way. They huddled with the little girls, trying to cover them with their bodies. But the bathroom hideout proved no match for the ferocious 200-210-mph winds that took all four of them up in the air amid dangerous flying debris and scattered them all in different directions.

The strong winds that hit around 3 p.m. pulled Sydnee from her mother’s grasp. When the debris stopped swirling, Laurinda sat up and wondered if her mother and the girls had survived. She found Sydnee, barely seven months old, on a driveway.

“She was just lying there helpless. All I could do was sit there and hold her. She was already gone,” Laurinda told The Oklahoman. “They say she didn’t suffer. So I’ve got to find peace with that.”

Sadly, Karrina was buried under the rubble of a neighbor’s home and her parents could not find her. It wasn’t until the next day that they learned that searchers had found Karrina.

Phil and Laurinda, along with her mother, managed to physically survive the ordeal, as did the two oldest children, Damon, 11, and Aria, 8, who were at school at the time the tornado hit.

Laurinda spent most of last week in the hospital. She barely recalls sitting up when she landed on the ground. She was hospitalized for treatment of significant lacerations she sustained after the tornado ripped open her home and flung her, the two small girls and their grandma into the debris-loaded swirling winds.

Shortly after his wife was released from the hospital, settling in with her mother and two surviving children, Phil stood before news crews with military bearing. CNN’s Anderson Cooper filmed a five-minute interview for a segment “AC360,” that aired on CNN Thursday night and was released on the news channel’s Internet blog early Friday morning.

On camera Phil seemed determined to appear positive. His quick responses to obviously prepared questions did not hide the dazed look in his tearing eyes.

Phil seemed to be firmly focusing forward with a “gotta get it done” attitude. Since last week’s tornado changed life as he knew it, he takes comfort in sharing favorite memories of his little girls and in his family’s strength.

“Basically I’ve got a lot of things that I have to do in order to rebuild some semblance of a normal life for my family, and I think that’s kind of what’s driving me. Kind of that mental to do list that needs to be done,” he told Cooper when asked how he was doing what he needed to do last week.

“My wife and my mother-in-law were in there with my babies, and I wouldn’t ask them to do anything other than heal at this point,” he said. “I know that I’ve got a lot of grieving to do but at the same time there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and I have to move forward with that. My wife’s been supportive through it all; she’s a strong woman. I’m proud of her.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-29