Florida Woman Has Water Up to Her Chest During Hurricane Ian – Her Son Swam Half a Mile and Saves Her Life
Johnny was there for his mom Karen when she needed him most.
As Johnny Lauder approached the house, he heard the 86-year-old woman inside screaming. That woman was his mother.
“It was a sense of terror and relief at the same time,” Lauder 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.”
Karen Lauder Miscalculated How Bad the Storm Would Be
Karen Lauder, a double amputee who uses a wheelchair to get around, had not wanted to leave her home in Naples, Florida, before Hurricane Ian hit. After all, this wasn’t her first hurricane. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, Karen’s home had flooded six inches. She could ride that out, she reasoned. Plus, Hurricane Ian was forecasted to touch down more than 160 miles north of her home. The worst of the hurricane was supposed to be experienced in and around Tampa.
Still, Karen’s 49-year-old son pleaded with her to evacuate. But Karen was firm: evacuating would be difficult, and she wanted to avoid the stress. She valued her privacy and wanted to stay home.
After pleading unsuccessfully with his mother, Johnny Lauder decided to stick around, too. He went to his son’s house, just a few blocks away. “We didn’t evacuate because we couldn’t leave her behind,” he admitted.
But Hurricane Ian did strike Naples, and it struck hard. On September 28, winds of 150 mph and huge storm surges pushed water into all the homes in Karen’s neighborhood. As the waters continued to rise, first around her waist and then up to her chest, Karen realized with horror that this was going to be much worse than Hurricane Irma.
Her Son Johnny Heeded the Call
Meanwhile, at her grandson’s home a few blocks away, water was also pouring in. Johnny, his two sons, his son’s girlfriend and their pets climbed up to the attic to stay dry. Then they received a phone call from Karen.
Johnny immediately jumped out of the window and started swimming the half mile to his mother’s house.
Johnny Lauder is a former Chicago police officer and a trained rescue diver. Still, the murky waters littered with household items and debris presented an enormous challenge. There are countless dangers hidden below the surface of floodwaters, not to mention the fallen power lines and vehicles floating by.
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Lauder was navigating those treacherous, rapidly moving waters, when an object floated past him that seemed sent by God. It was a kneeboard. Lauder grabbed it and used it to stay afloat.
“There was nothing on the street,” Lauder said, “and it just appeared. [I was] like, ‘Wow, OK, someone’s looking out for me.’”
He Saves His Mother but Hears the Screams of Others in Need
After 45 minutes, Lauder finally made it to his mother’s house, and that’s when he heard her screaming. By the time he got in, Karen was submerged up to her shoulders.
Johnny worried about a lot of things: he worried about all of his mother’s things because she didn’t have renter’s insurance; he worried about open wounds on her body that could get infected from the dirty water; he worried about how he was going to get his mother, who was suffering from hypothermia from the freezing waters, out of there safe and sound.
He was in luck: there was a set of dry bed sheets. Johnny stacked a couple tables on top of each other, got his mother up on the tables, and then wrapped her in the dry sheets. Together, they waited for the waters to subside.
Once the water was only a couple feet high, Johnny’s son joined them and they started to evacuate, pushing Karen in her wheelchair through the waters. That’s when Johnny heard another cry for help.
One of Karen’s neighbors was also stuck. Johnny turned back and took the neighbour to a hotel before rejoining his family.
A Warning to Be Safe Rather Than Sorry
The Lauders ended up losing two homes and their cars to Hurricane Ian. But what’s most important is still there.
“If I would’ve waited, she wouldn’t be here,” Lauder said. “And that’s my mom. I would’ve done it for anybody’s mom or anyone else in that situation. You know, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
More than 400 people were rescued from the storm surge in Florida and South Carolina; more than 80 people in Florida died from the category four hurricane.
“Please heed the warnings,” Johnny now urges people. “I’d still save my mother all over again, but it’s definitely better to not stick around.”
Karen Lauder was taken to hospital where she was treated for infection.
“She’s warm,” Lauder said. “She’s in a soft comfy bed. She’s good…[but] my mom has changed her tone. She will be evacuating next time.”
Johnny was there for his mom when she needed him most. Let’s do the same when the moment calls!