Malaika Muhammad was home alone on Monday night when the flood that killed at least three people struck her neighborhood of South Houston, Texas.
“I was looking outside at the weather in astonishment,” she says, when she noticed a car stopped on the freeway exit ramp near her home.
“When I looked back again the car was flashing its lights and that’s when I realized there was somebody in it,” she tells PEOPLE. As Muhammad watched the water level around the car rise, she noticed someone in the car waving. Then, she says, “I could tell this is someone who really needs help.”
What she found was a young couple that had been stranded on their way to the hospital to visit their newborn baby. She walked out onto the median and coaxed the new parents away from their submerged car and safely to dry ground.
“I escorted them up to my porch and by the time I got to my porch there was another car stuck,” she says. “It was an elderly lady, so I was telling her to get out of the car but the water was rising slowly and she wasn’t responding.”
Again, Muhammad braved wind-driven rain and traveled down to the freeway exit, where the water was several inches deep, to help the woman get safely out of her car and brought her up to her porch where she wrapped her in blankets.
The young couple found a family member to pick them up and take them to the hospital. As they were leaving, Muhammad gave them her business card “and asked them to call just to make sure everything was okay.”
As soon as she closed the door, her phone rang. “It was the young lady,” Muhammad tells PEOPLE. “She said, ‘Malaika, Malaika, there’s another car there stuck in case you want to help them too.’ ”
Muhammad went back outside and rescued another couple and brought them safely to her porch when she saw a truck approach and become stuck on the exit. As she shouted at the driver to get out of the car, she noticed that all of its windows were rolled up and became concerned that the driver was trapped. “At this point I went into a panic,” she says.
She sprinted into her house and found something to use in case she had to break one of the truck’s windows. Since this vehicle was farther from the road, she had to jump into the floodwater to reach it. Even though she knew she was endangering her own life in doing so, “I had to do what I had to do,” she says. “I thought about it for a second but it’s like you don’t have a choice. Fear wasn’t going to serve anyone in that moment.”
Once she reached the car, she says the driver was in shock. “What I gathered from everyone is that they were just in disbelief,” she tells PEOPLE. “The immediate fear is of the water, but I was telling him, ‘You have to get out.’ ”
The mother of two kept herself afloat while she helped the man shimmy out through his car window. The water was already chest-deep as she coaxed her latest rescue to safety.
“By the time I was walking back up to the porch, there was another man walking up the other side of the freeway,” she says. It was a young man whose car had been completely submerged. “I just said, ‘Come sit,’ so he comes on the porch too and at this point everyone is kind of just sitting wondering, ‘What just happened?’ ”
“Eventually, people started to calm down and at that point my focus was just on finding out their names, who they were and if there was someone they could call,” she tells PEOPLE. She made sure all of her guests were warm and dry, offering up clothes from her closet.
“Two individuals weren’t able to get ahold of anyone and they were pretty much here with me the whole night,” Muhammad tells PEOPLE. “We just kind of talked and watched the news until the morning.”
The holistic health and beauty practitioner rescued a total of seven people that night, but she doesn’t consider herself a hero. “It kind of makes me uncomfortable,” she says of the attention her heroic efforts have attracted since the story was first reported on Houston’s Fox 26 News.
While she does not consider courageous acts to be exceptional, she hopes they will inspire others. “In that moment I decided to be the change that I wanted to see in the world,” she tells PEOPLE.
“For me it was just about doing what needed to be done,” she adds. “If I was stuck like that, I would not want someone to be watching me from their bedroom window … In that moment it’s like you can’t just watch someone need help and not do the best that you can to assist them.”