A man swam half a mile through floodwater to rescue his drowning mother after she refused to evacuate her home in the face of Hurricane Ian.
Johnny Lauder’s mother Karen, 86, decided not to leave her house in Naples, Florida before Ian made landfall with 150mph winds on Wednesday.
It had flooded around six inches (15cm) during Hurricane Irma in 2017 – so she assumed water levels would be similar with Ian.
But when the storm hit this week, the water in the house was more than three feet (91cm) deep – eventually reaching up to her chest.
“I could have gone to a shelter, but I didn’t think it’d be that bad,” Mrs Lauder told NBC News.
Her son was at his eldest son’s house around half a mile away, having not evacuated either for fear of leaving his mother behind.
It was then she sent a distress call.
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- Hurricane Ian
“She said the water was up to her wheelchair and hitting her belly button,” Mr Lauder said.
At this point, he helped his three children crawl into his son’s attic with the three family pets and dove out of the window to rescue his mother.
45-minute swim through flooded streets
It took him 45 minutes of swimming against the current through five feet of floodwater – with various vehicles floating by him – to reach Mrs Lauder’s house.
“It was a very rough swim, if you can call it that, and I knew the water was coming up faster and faster,” he said.
“I was aware of the dangers any type of current could take me, I could be hit by debris, but my mom was there and I knew she didn’t have much time.”
But he added: “Who wouldn’t go for their mom?”
Mr Lauder took pictures throughout the journey so he could send them back to his family as proof he was okay.
When he got to the house, he could hear his mother’s screaming.
“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.”
Showing signs of hypothermia
As a former rescuer diver and police officer, he could see she was showing signs of hypothermia and had sores on her body, so lifted her on top of a table and wrapped her in sheets while they waited for the water to subside.
After three hours he was able to push her to safety in her wheelchair – with the help of his son.
Mrs Lauder was taken to hospital after contracting infections, but her son said: “They were treated and she’s warm. She’s in a soft, comfy bed. She’s good.”
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Mr Lauder, his eldest son and his mother have all had their homes destroyed.
His sister-in-law in Miami set up a crowdfunder that has raised more than $17,000 (£15,050) after it emerged the family did not have rental insurance.
“All that can be replaced, life can’t,” Mr Lauder said.
“My mom has changed her tone: she will be evacuating next time. I hope people learn from others’ mistakes and not their own.”
His mother added: “I’m just so glad I’m here today.”