A former North Chicago police officer living in Naples, Florida, recently braved the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Ian to save his disabled mother from the storm.
Johnny Lauder’s 86-year-old mother had previously lost a leg and requires a wheelchair. After riding out Hurricane Irma in 2017 with just six inches of flooding, she decided not to evacuate her home for Ian. However, the consequences this time were dire.
More than three feet of water had already submerged her up to her belly button and was rising quickly by the time she made an emergency phone call to her son.
Lauder hadn’t wanted to leave his mother behind by evacuating when she refused to leave her home, so he was riding out the storm at his eldest son’s house, about half a mile away. Knowing he had to do something, he dove out of a window and started swimming to his mom’s house while recording the ordeal.
“I just wanted to get there,” Lauder told CNN. “I knew time was of the essence. She was running out of time. And you’ve just got to stay focused and dig and dig and dig.”
Thanks to his training as a rescue diver, Lauder had ample experience to draw from. After 45 minutes of swimming through the floodwaters, he finally reached his mother’s home and could hear her screams for help.
“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.”
Video taken by Lauder showed his mother submerged in water up to her chest, with furniture and other home articles floating around on the surface.
After getting inside, Lauder lifted his mom out of the water and onto a table and wrapped her in dry sheets. The former police officer worried about hypothermia, as well as about the open wounds on her body and the risk of infection due to the bacteria-filled floodwaters.
Three hours later the water began to subside and Lauder started pushing his mom in her wheelchair towards his brother’s house. After getting stuck in an area with water that was too deep to cross, he called his 20-year-old son for help to “push grandma to safety.”
Eleven hours after his mom’s call, the family made it back to the older son’s house.
Lauder later took his mom to the hospital to be treated for infections.
“She’s warm, she’s safe – that’s all that matters,” Lauder said.
A GoFundMe was created by Lauder’s sister-in-law Cassandra Clark to raise money Lauder and his mother, who both lost their homes in the storm.
“While we’re so grateful our family is physically alright, they’ve lost absolutely everything in this storm and, unfortunately, did not have any renter’s insurance,” Clark wrote.
As of October 7, the family had raised over $25,000.
“I get choked up that all these people are helping me, and they don’t even know me,” Lauder said.
He added that the family plans to evacuate before the next big storm.