For the past six days we have been in Alagoas state, in northeast Brazil, reporting on the devastating flooding that has killed over 50 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

Needless to say, there haven’t been many happy stories here.

Given the scenes of absolute destruction, in many ways it's amazing more people didn’t die.

Perhaps it’s a credit to the will and quick action of many of these humble, working class people from the smallest municipalities hit the hardest.

We recently met Jailson Alves da Silva in the town of Santana do Munda?, a municipality of 12,039 people that was 70 per cent destroyed by the floods.

All public services in the town (mayor's office, health clinic, education office etc, have been wiped out).

Silva saved five people during the flooding. His story provides a glimpse into the horror of what everyone faced, and also his will to save his neighbours. (Click here to view an Al Jazeera slideshow of more photos and stories from Santana do Munda?).

When the river water levels first started to increase, nobody was particularly worried, Silva said.

“When the river swelled, it used to bring us joy,” he told Al Jazeera from the town where he has lived all his life.

“When the river level would rise, we’d play soccer along the riverbank or jump off the bridge into the water.”

But at about 9am last Friday, things changed quickly.

“When I saw that the water had reached the door of my house, I started to worry," Silva, 36, said. 

"By noon the river really started to rise fast. By two or three in the afternoon, the bridge was submerged, and that’s when my house fell.”

Silva lived in that house with his wife and children. When the water started to rise fast, she and the kids made their way to higher ground at the town elementary school, which is now serving as a shelter for a couple dozen homeless families.

Silva decided to stay behind to see who needed help.

“A kid was on his roof with his mother and father. The water had almost reached them," Silva told us.

"I helped them to safety, and held onto them as I swam and brought them to shore.

“There were two other men trapped in a house, and they couldn’t get out.

"I threw a rope in through the window and swam with them to dry land. Then their house fell.”

Silva rescued five people that day from raging waters. But he is still haunted by one man in town, named Gilmar, whom he could not save.

“We were up on the hill around five o'clock and it was getting dark,” Silva recounts.

“We saw Gilmar on his roof. I get chills just talking about it. He was calling for help and using the light on his cell phone like a flashlight to show people where he was.”

Then, the roof of the house Gilmar was standing on collapsed under the weight of the rushing waters.  

“When the house fell, someone saw him holding onto a rock,” Silva said.

“And then no one saw him after that. If I had someone else to help me, I could have saved Gilmar.”

While Silva was unable to save Gilmar, the five people he did save are now grateful that the man would risk his own life to save others.

“The woman I rescued - Nita is her name - when she saw me the other day she fainted,” Silva remembers.

“I feel like a hero,” he admitted.

However, now Silva is facing a battle of his own.

He and his family lost everything they owned in the floods, and are one of 40 families living in the local school and trying to live off of donations and figure out how to pick up the pieces of their lives.

But perhaps amid all the chaos of those horrific days of flooding, his quick actions make all the material loss slightly easier to bear.