A man swam half a mile in floodwater to save his drowning mother after she refused to evacuate her home in the face of Hurricane Ian.
Johnny Lauder’s mother Karen, 86, has decided not to leave her Naples home, Florida forward Ian It made landfall Wednesday with winds of 150 mph.
During Hurricane Irma in 2017, it was already submerged by about 6 inches (15 cm) – so she thinks water levels will be similar to Ian’s.
But when the storm hit this week, water in the house was more than three feet (91 centimeters) deep – eventually reaching her chest.
“I could have gone to a shelter, but I didn’t think it would be that bad,” Mrs Lauder told NBC News.
Her son, who was at his eldest son’s house half a mile away, did not evacuate either, for fear of leaving his mother.
Just then, she sent out a distress signal.
“She said the water got onto her wheelchair and hit her belly button,” Mr Lauder said.
At this time, he helped the three children climb into his son’s attic with the three pets at home, and jumped out of the window to save the mother.
Swim through flooded streets in 45 minutes
He swam against the current for 45 minutes in 5ft floodwater – with various vehicles floating beside him – to Mrs Lauder’s house.
“It was a very tough swim, if you can say that, I know the water is getting faster and faster,” he said.
“I was aware of the danger that any type of current could take me away and I could be hit by debris, but my mum was there and I knew she didn’t have much time.”
But he added: “Who wouldn’t go to their mum?”
Mr Lauder took pictures throughout the trip so he could send them back to his family to prove he was okay.
When I got home, I heard my mother screaming.
“It’s a feeling of fear and relief at the same time,” he said.
“Scary, I don’t know if something fell on her or if she was trapped and injured. But I know she still has air in her lungs, which is a relief.”
showing signs of hypothermia
A former rescue diver and police officer, he could see her showing signs of hypothermia and sores on her body, so lifted her to a table and wrapped her in sheets, waiting for the water to subside.
Three hours later, with the help of his son, he pushed her into a safe wheelchair.
Mrs Lauder was taken to hospital after becoming infected but her son said: “They were treated and she was warm. She was lying on a soft and comfortable bed. She was fine.”
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The homes of Mr Lauder, his eldest son and his mother were all destroyed.
His sister-in-law in Miami set up a crowdfunding platform that raised more than $17,000 (£15,050) after the family had no rental insurance.
“All of these can be replaced, life cannot,” Mr Lauder said.
“My mom changed her tone: she’ll be evacuating next time. I want people to learn from other people’s mistakes, not their own.”
His mother added: “I’m very happy to be here today.”