"It had poured 11 inches in three hours. I've never seen anything like it," Norman Faust tells PEOPLE
Credit: Courtesy Stephen Edelstein

In the 25 years he’s lived in Houston, Norman Faust has seen his fair share of drama.

It’s partly because of his job: as manager of the Taste of Texas restaurant, he works until the wee hours. For example, there was the time he caught a group of thieves stealing copper from a church and got enough information for the police to make an arrest.

But until the night of May 27, he’d never saved a person’s life before.

While working at the restaurant that evening, “we knew the rain was coming,” he recalls, so they tried to get all of the staff out of there by about 12:45 a.m.

Heading home to Spring, Faust got stranded by floodwaters. He turned around and started to go back to the Taste of Texas with other employees to wait it out until the water receded.

“In the parking area, you could barely get around,” he says. “And then I looked to my right and saw a vehicle that was submerged; it was about 7/8ths in the water.”

Faust started walking toward other people who were stranded and yelled, “Does anybody know if someone’s in the vehicle?” No one replied.

He started walking into the water, but even toward the edge, it was rushing violently. It was then that he noticed there was indeed a person in the SUV.

Yelling back to the crowd, he asked if anyone had a rope. Suddenly, one was thrown in his direction. He fastened it around his waist and said, “Hold on to me, please.”

The window was down when he got to the car. What he saw was an older woman who was up to her neck in the cold water.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” he asked her. She said she was, but she couldn’t open the door.

“Put your hands around my neck and hold on,” he told her. Scared that she was going to lose her grip out of fear, Faust tried to lighten the mood by saying, “Just don’t get fresh with me right now.”

The woman almost smiled at that.

After he got her to safety, the passersby called 911. She said she was cold, so Faust ran to his car to retrieve a towel and a T-shirt from his restaurant.

“She kept saying she was embarrassed,” Faust recalls. “I told her not to be so hard on herself, because nobody expected anything like this. It had poured 11 inches in three hours. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He’s not the only one. According to Jennifer McNatt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the epic storms that began around May 4 and lasted three weeks led to 1,130 flash-flood warnings, 1,015 severe thunderstorm warnings and 273 tornado warnings. While the NWS hasn’t yet compiled the data to see where this storm will rank historically in the state, McNatt pointed out that at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport alone, “it saw 16 inches of rainfall in May. Compare that with the normal rainfall of 5 inches in May.”

Which means that many Texans weren’t ready for a flooding event of the magnitude they experienced, and some ended up in peril. Luckily, helpful strangers such as Faust were there just in the nick of time.

Although he’s received a lot of praise for what he did that night, “I don’t feel like a hero at all,” he says. “God gave me the strength to get in there. I just did what needed to be done.”