Florida Man Swims 45 Minutes to Rescue Disabled Mother After Hurricane Ian

Efthymis Oraiopoulos
By Efthymis Oraiopoulos
October 8, 2022USshare
Florida Man Swims 45 Minutes to Rescue Disabled Mother After Hurricane Ian
Karen Lauder is seen inside her house in Miami, when her son got into the house to rescue her, on Sept. 28, 2022. (Cassandra Clark/GoFundMe)

A Florida man’s ordeal captured in photos made news in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which ravaged Miami last Wednesday.

Johnny Lauder rushed to save his 86-year-old mother after she called him for help the day the hurricane hit Miami. He swam more than 40 minutes, according to the Associated Press.

In one of Lauder’s photos, Karen Lauder, his mother, can be seen inside her house with water almost to her neck.

In another photo, she can be seen laying on top of a table, just above the water level, wrapped in sheets. In another photo 3 hours later, Johnny Lauder is seen pushing his mother in a wheelchair with the water to her legs.

Johnny Lauder—who said he has received training in rescue diving and was a former Chicago policeman—was staying at this son’s home when the hurricane hit, a mile away from his mother’s home.

They did not evacuate because his mother insisted on staying at her home. They were all living in Miami. His mother based her decision not to evacuate on her experience with Hurricane Irma in 2017, which resulted in only 6 inches of flooding in her house, according to the Associated Press.

Hurricane Ian however was one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history and sent 3 feet of water inside her house, trapping her inside.

Karen Lauder who has lost a leg uses a wheelchair. By the time she called her son she told him that the water had reached her belly button.

Johnny Lauder rushed to save her, saying afterward that even a small delay on his part would have been fatal for her.

He got out of his son’s attic window and into the water in a Naples neighborhood he said it seemed like an aquarium, The Washington Post reports.

He swam, kicked, waded, and walked for about 45 minutes, before reaching his mother’s house, a mile away.

During this time he saw a van and a car passing by him, but he also found a kneeboard that helped him stay afloat.

“It was like an act of God when the kneeboard just floated in front of me,” he said. “There was nothing on the street and it just appeared, like, ‘Wow, okay, someone’s looking out for me.’”

When he reached his mother’s home and got in, he heard her screaming.

“It was a sense of terror and relief at the same time,” he said. “The terror was that I didn’t know if something was falling on her or if she was trapped and hurt. But the relief was knowing that there’s still air in her lungs.”

She was chest-deep in water, with various household items floating around the house. The water was 3 feet deep.

Lauder stacked two tables on top of each other and put his mother on top, just above the water level, wrapping her in dry sheets to keep her warm.

They waited 3 hours for the waters to recede, by which time his son had also arrived at his grandmother’s home. Together, Johnny Lauder and his son pushed her on her wheelchair out of the house, the water reaching her knees. Their goal was to reach the son’s home.

From the time Lauder’s mother called him, eleven hours had passed until they were all reunited in the son’s home.

Karen Lauder was treated at a hospital and Johnny Lauder said she is now safe and doing well, according to the Associated Press.

The Lauder family had major material damage to their two houses, but Lauder said everything can be replaced.

“I have my mom, my sons, and my job. So I still have my hope,” he said.

His sister-in-law created a GoFundMe page for raising money for the family. As of Thursday, it has reached more than $24,000.

“I get choked up that all these people are helping me and they don’t even know me,” Johnny Lauder said.

Johnny Lauder said his mother changed her tone about evacuation, and he said they will not be staying at home in the next hurricane. He hopes that people will know to evacuate now, “I hope people learn from others’ mistakes.”

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