Student finds lower Ninth Ward far from prospering

This Spring Break was very different for me.

Instead of going home and waking up at noon everyday, lounging on South Beach or going on a road trip, I chose to help people that could not help themselves.

So on the first Saturday of spring break, I packed some sleeping bags, rugged shoes and a trash bag full of clothes to donate and I headed to New Orleans.

As I pulled into the New Orleans area, the site was depressing. I heard that before Katrina, the city was over-populated. But as I saw the remnants of the city, I could never have guessed it was.

The deeper I got into the city, the more people I saw, but New Orleans was still not what it once was.

People were forced to evacuate and most of what used to be there, no longer is.

The houses that were not destroyed by the actual storm were devastated once the levee broke and released millions of gallons of water into the city. The flood destroyed all the contents of the residents’ homes and left black mold on the drywall making them uninhabitable.

Even if the houses were not too badly destroyed, most of them did not have gas, water or electricity.

During the day, I would go into the city and work. I did something called “gutting,” a process where all of the contents of the house are taken out and piled in front of the house.

I had to watch residents watch their whole lives being thrown into a massive pile.

I had to throw away their kids’ toys, beds, Christmas ornaments and their photo albums. It was an emotionally trying time for both the residents and the volunteers.

After this was done, all the drywall had to come out because the flood made it useless. This task was daunting. The last day that I was there my team successfully gutted a whole house.

By the time we were finishing, I congratulated everyone for the job done.

But once I walked outside and looked around, my smile and good spirit quickly faded. I realized that my team of 23 people gutted a decent-sized, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house and it took us from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Then I looked at the other houses on the street and I realized that someone had to clean the rest of the houses on the street, neighborhood and city. Most of the work that I did was in the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood where the levee broke.

This is where I saw the most horrific damage. I saw how the water carved its fingerprints into houses as it rushed through the streets once the levee broke. I saw cars that were shoved aside and houses that fell over with no regard as to where they fell.

What made this more tragic was the fact that this area was already poor before the storm. This was the area in New Orleans that got the majority of the flooding and destruction.

However, CNN is not airing footage of this area. That is the reason why I am writing this. I am not writing to let people know about my spring break, but to let people know what is going on with their own people.

CNN is not showing you what I saw last week. I talked to people that had respectable lives and reputations before the hurricane and now they had to sleep on the street.

These people are not bums or trash; they just need help. But the public is not aware of what is going on.

You need to know about this. You need to know that I was speaking to a woman outside a packed Church’s Chicken — the only place where people could get food — who told me she had just gotten back home from evacuating to Arkansas, and everything that she owned was gone.

You need to know that she cried as I spoke to her and that she desperately asked me where she could find FEMA. I told her what I knew, but I also knew that FEMA would not be able to help her.

I felt like crying when I thought about where she would have to sleep that night.

You have to know that, although it has been more than six months since Katrina, there are massive amounts of work to be done.

Contact Jonathan Arias at