A Naples man swam half a mile during Hurricane Ian to save his elderly mother from a flooded home.
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida with storm surges and flooding causing millions to lose power and even their homes.
Johnny Lauder, a former police officer, said he couldn’t quite convince his mother, 84-year-old Karen Lauder, to leave her home and head to a shelter.
“She said, ‘You’d have to pull me out kicking and screaming,'” Lauder told PEOPLE.
While Lauder and his family weathered the storm and flooding, he received a call from his mother notifying him of the water level reaching her belly button.
This set Lauder into motion. He made sure his son, son’s girlfriend, and animals were safe with food and an escape plan before setting off to save his mother from the impending floods.
“I jumped out the window,” said Lauder, “Cars were floating past me. The current was insane.”
Despite the dangers and risks of swimming in open storm surge waters, he continued on. Debris and the water’s current were dangerously moving.
Along the way Lauder grabbed a lifejacket from a nearby boat to use for his mother.
“Every so often when I was able to stop kicking and pushing through, I grabbed onto a branch or next to a pole to take a selfie because my phone was going off the hook. My wife, the family in Miami, and my kids in the attic, everybody wanted to know if I was okay.”
Lauder said, “My hands were wet, so I couldn’t text.”
Every photo he snapped for his worried family had pictured a caterpillar on his head, something he considered to possibly be a guardian angel guiding him through his dangerous half mile journey to his mother.
40 minutes had passed and finally Lauder made it to his mother’s home.
“The water was up to the windows, and I heard her screaming inside,” Lauder told CNN. “It was a scare and a sigh of relief at the time – a scare thinking she might be hurt, a sigh of relief knowing that there was still air in her lungs.”
Everything was floating around his mother and he got to work to get her out safely.
Not only did he save his mother, but he saved her neighbor by carrying her to safety while pushing his mother in her wheelchair.
“I had to push her back to my son’s house and through chest deep water at night with flashlights and it was pretty bad,” he says. “We get home, and we’re at my son’s house, who luckily only got about a foot of water in the house.”
Luckily they all found their way to safety and warmed up.
His mother is in the hospital receiving treatment for a bacterial infection she got from the flood waters.
“She’s warm, she’s safe – that’s all that matters,” Lauder said.
Lauder has since set up a GoFund me to help rebuild what they had lost.
“I might have lost my home, my things, but I didn’t lose family, I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t lose hope. So we’re still here,” he says.
“Life is like a computer, there’s two buttons: There’s a reset and a power — and thank God it was just a reset button that got hit and not the power.”
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