Johnny Lauder, a Chicago native who moved to Naples with his family about 20 years ago, was riding out the Category 4 storm at his older son's house, which is about a half a mile from his 86-year-old mother's house. He told the Associated Press the family didn't evacuate because his mother refused to leave her home, and they couldn't leave her behind.
Lauder said his mom, who lost a leg and requires a wheelchair, didn't want to leave because she stayed for Hurricane Irma in 2017 and only experienced about six inches of flooding in her home. She thought the effects of Ian would be about the same.
Unfortunately, the outcome was very different, as the powerful storm rushed more than 3 feet of water into her home and ultimately trapped her inside.
She called her son for help and told him the water was up to her wheelchair and hitting her belly button. He dove out a window in his son's home and made his way to his mom's house.
In this photo posted to GoFundMe, Lauder's mother, Karen Lauder, 86, is submerged nearly to her shoulders in water that has flooded her home, in Naples, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, following Hurricane Ian. (GoFundMe)
Lauder is a former North Chicago police officer, according to Chicago news outlets, and also has rescue diver training. After 45 minutes of swimming, walking, wading and pushing through the water, he made it to her house where he heard her 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."
When he got inside, he put his mom on a table and bundled her in dry sheets. Lauder said his mom had a few open wounds on her body, and he was worried about the risk of infection in the bacteria-ridden floodwater.
In this photo posted to GoFundMe Johnny Lauder and his mother, Karen Lauder, 86, appear together as she continues to recover from her injuries. (GoFundMe)
After about three hours of waiting for the water to subside, Lauder made an attempt toward his son's house while pushing his mom in her wheelchair. The pair ended up reaching an area with water that was a few feet high, so he called for his younger, 20-year-old son to come help "push grandma to safety."
Eleven hours after responding to his mom's call for help, Lauder, his mom and his younger son finally made it back to his older son's home.
Lauder said his mom was taken to a hospital to treat a few infections, but she is now "warm" and "good."
A GoFundMe was started by Cassandra Clark, Lauder's sister-in-law in Miami, to raise money for the family. According to Chicago news outlets, Lauder and his mom lost their homes, but his son's home was OK.
"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 Wednesday morning, nearly $24,000 had been raised.
"I get choked up that all these people are helping me, and they don’t even know me," Lauder said.
Lauder said his mom has "changed her tone" and will be evacuating before the next hurricane.
"I hope people learn from others' mistakes and not their own," he said.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.