Hurricane Ian rescue: Son Johnny Lauder swims half a mile to save his mother from flooded Florida home

NAPLES, Fla. — In one photo, Johnny Lauder’s 86-year-old mother is submerged almost to her shoulders in black, murky water at her Florida home and stares open-mouthed directly at the camera.

In another, she lies just above the waterline on a table, wrapped in sheets to keep warm. In another case, she is pushed through the water in a wheelchair, her rescue almost complete.

Karen Lauder, 86, is submerged almost up to her shoulders in water that flooded her home in Naples, Florida on September 28, 2022 after Hurricane Ian.

Johnny Lauder via AP

The photos were taken after Hurricane Ian made landfall last Wednesday, bringing with it a powerful storm surge and winds of 150 mph. They tell the story of Lauder’s journey to rescue his mother, Karen Lauder, from the home she refused to leave despite the family’s pleas.

He sent the short videos and photos to his family, letting them know he was fine.

“That’s how I unintentionally documented the whole ordeal,” he said.


Johnny Lauder’s mother, Karen Lauder, 86, is wheeled through flood waters in a wheelchair after being rescued from her home in Naples, Florida on September 28, 2022 following Hurricane Ian.

Courtesy of Johnny Lauder via AP

Before the storm hit, Lauder said his mother — who lost a leg and is confined to a wheelchair — “kicked and yelled” and said she didn’t want to leave her home in Naples, Fla. “We weren’t evacuated because we couldn’t leave them behind,” he explained.

She hadn’t anticipated the level of destruction Ian would bring. Speaking from his son’s home on Tuesday, Lauder said his mother’s home was flooded about six inches deep during Hurricane Irma in 2017, so she said Ian felt the same result.

WATCH: Thousands in shelters, more than 100 dead a week after Hurricane Ian hit Florida

Instead, Ian devastated Florida in one of the strongest storms on record in the United States, sending more than three feet of water surrounding and trapping her home. She called her son for help.


Johnny Lauder takes a selfie with his mother, Karen Lauder, 86, as he came to rescue her after water flooded her home in Naples, Florida September 28, 2022 following Hurricane Ian.

Johnny Lauder via AP

“She said the water ran up to her wheelchair and hit her belly button,” Lauder said. He hid in his son’s house, 0.8 km from his mother.

Lauder, who said he was a rescue diver, jumped out the window. He swam, walked, waded and kicked through water for about 45 minutes to get to her home. He said a van and a couple of cars floated past him as he dodged sparking power poles.

Lauder said he heard his mother scream as he approached.

“It was a feeling of fear and relief at the same time,” he said. “The horror was I didn’t know if something fell on her or if she was pinched and injured. But the relief was knowing there was still air in her lungs.”

He placed her on a table and wrapped her in dry sheets from a high shelf. He worried about the wounds around her body – open wounds that were dangerously susceptible to infection in the bacterial flood waters.


Karen Lauder lies on a table just above the waterline, wrapped in sheets to keep warm after water flooded her home in Naples, Florida September 28, 2022 following Hurricane Ian.

Johnny Lauder via AP

They waited three hours for the water to recede so he could wheel them through the streets in their wheelchair. When the water rose a few feet, he called his 20-year-old son to join them and help get Grandma to safety.

Around 1 a.m. — about 11 hours after Lauder’s mother called him for help — Lauder returned to his older son’s home with his mother and younger son in tow.

Lauder said his mother was later taken to a hospital because she had some infections. “But they’ve been treated and she’s warm. She is lying in a soft, comfortable bed. She’s fine,” he added.

Cassandra Clark, Lauder’s sister-in-law in Miami, started GoFundMe to raise money for Lauder, his mother and sons.

“While we are so thankful that our family is physically healthy, they lost absolutely everything in this storm and sadly didn’t have renters insurance,” Clark wrote.

The site raised over $17,000 on Tuesday.

“I’m stunned that all of these people are helping me and don’t even know me,” Lauder said.

He hopes people now know to evacuate. “My mother has changed her tone: she will evacuate next time,” he said. “I hope people learn from the mistakes of others and not their own.”


Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Hurricane Ian rescue: Son Johnny Lauder swims half a mile to save his mother from flooded Florida home

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