Johnny Lauder swam through half-mile of neck-deep flood waters in Naples to save his mother, a double amputee stuck in a flooded home after Hurricane Ian.
Heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms usually cause flash floods within a few minutes or hours. Forecasters often advise against swimming in such waters because flash floods can tear out trees, roll boulders, scour out new channels, and destroy buildings and bridges. Flash floods also trigger catastrophic mudslides that normally cause most flood deaths. You will not always receive an alert that these deadly, sudden floods are coming, but you are always warned against swimming in them.
However, Johnny Lauder, 49, ignored those warnings to save his mother inside her Florida home after Hurricane Ian’s storm surge. He swam through a half-mile flash flooding with floating debris to pull his 84-year-old mother, who didn’t manage to flee ahead of Ian.
After saving his mother, Lauder urged everyone always to heed the warnings of storm surges and evacuations. He is asking those who have the means to evacuate but are not willing- to reconsider.
“Please heed the warnings,” Lauder told the Washington Post. “I’d still save my mother all over again, but it’s definitely better not to stick around.”
With its winds of 150 mph, forecasters had initially thought the worst of Ian’s effects would strike more than 160 miles north of Naples in and around Tampa. However, Ian left a huge path of destruction in southwest Florida than was previously anticipated. Many had been urged to evacuate, but countless people decided not to, weighing the threat of destruction against that of trouble leaving on clogged highways.
Residents such as Lauder’s mother are among those who were reluctant to evacuate, partially because she hated losing her privacy. As Johnny Lauder, a former Chicago police officer and rescue diver, tells it, the reality is often far more complicated for those who can’t easily get up and evacuate safely. While Johnny sheltered at his son’s home a few blocks away, his mother, Karen Lauder, who uses a wheelchair to get around, had decided to stay in her house despite evacuation orders.
Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida on 28 September, leaving more than two million people without power. Severe flooding damaged homes and created a treacherous swamp where streets and sidewalks were supposed to be, leaving many trapped. At least 12 people died following Ian’s catastrophic path through Florida.
Johnny Lauder and his family were taking refuge in the attic when Karen Lauder called, panicking and telling him she was almost submerged in water. Without much thought, Johnny jumped out of the window and began wading through the water. He had to navigate through mangled cars, powerlines, and other debris that Ian’s surge had washed away.
Among those items was a kneeboard Johnny used to keep himself afloat. “It was like an act of God when the kneeboard just floated in front of me,” Lauder said. “There was nothing on the street, and it just appeared, like, ‘Wow, OK, someone’s looking out for me.”
After trodding through a half-mile, Johnny finally got to his mother. He wrapped dry sheets around her since she was already suffering hypothermia from the cold waters. They waited for the water to subside, after which one of Lauder’s sons arrived and helped pull his grandmother out of the home.
When the water subsided, they pushed Karen Lauder to the home where the rest of the group was.
Everyone was safe!