Inside the underground world of New Orleans’ urban explorers

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -- Late at night when most of us are fast asleep, an entire secret society comes to life, using the shadows to explore forbidden places.

They discover the blighted, abandoned buildings that dot the City of New Orleans and other cities around the world.

It's an illegal operation, as these "urban explorers" often find themselves mingling with graffiti artists, drug addicts, and scavengers.

New Orleans Police Lieutenant Jonette Williams warns, "It's a dangerous thing that people are doing when they're involved in that type of behavior."

We meet an urban explorer we only know as Taylor.

At night, Taylor finds beauty in decay, exploring abandoned power plants, a forgotten theme park or a shuttered hospital, taking photographs as he goes.  "It's almost somber walking around a lot of these buildings like charity, where so much crazy stuff happened during Katrina."

Taylor says, "We've found x-ray machines that are still running in places before, places that still have electricity and old operating rooms and morgues."

Taylor then shares his photos of these abandoned buildings online, for the world to see.

The illegal activity is a growing trend.  Lt. Williams blames social media, specifically Instagram, "With the onset of social media and people being able to share experiences with their friends, with other people on the internet."

She also offers a stern warning: police are watching!

They're looking out for the safety of both urban explorers and the first responders who go after them because lurking amidst the imagery is danger.

Those risks range from biohazards to animals and debris.

Williams explains, "It's really just a safety thing.  We want people to be safe and entering those types of structures is not what you should do to be safe."

Taylor says the motto of "urban explorers" is the popular quote, "take only pictures, leave only footprints."  However, as the popularity grows, he sees more people stealing from and damaging the buildings.

Taylor tells us while urban exploration may be dangerous, it's a risk he's willing to take, saying, "We've been caught a few times and I'm still out doing it."

Facing physical harm, fines, even jail time -- all in the name of art.

For more adventurous reporting, follow Anne on Twitter @AnneCutler.

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