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Gulf Coast Blog: Charity Hospital officials make case for demolition

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A door bursting at its seams near Charity Hospital cafeteria.

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Posted: 11:36 a.m. ET
From Andreas Preuss, CNN Gulf Coast Bureau

It was what some in the media business call a "dog and pony show." Hospital officials and engineers wanted reporters to see the bowels of the Medical Center of Louisiana, otherwise known as Charity Hospital. The press release said: Come see firsthand why Charity has been deemed unsalvageable.

Before our tour, the officials said it would cost at least $340 million to repair Katrina damage to the building. They also said the hospital was a bio-hazard zone. Members of the press had to sign a medical release form, don gloves and masks, rubber boots and use flashlights to navigate the destruction.

Depths of despair

Along with photojournalist Rich Brooks, and audio tech Jerry Appelman, I went down a dank stairwell with hospital engineer Walt Adams. Sloshing through puddles of water, we were shown damage to the basement, where the flooding reached to the ceiling and beyond. Adams pointed out electrical malfunctions, broken lines and other infrastructure problems.

But the real impact of the tour was seeing places where the living and dead once resided. The cafeteria had chairs and other debris piled high. It was a mess. Up next on this haunted history tour -- the morgue.

I can only try to paint a picture for you. Adams pointed out the morgue and opened up the door. There were no house lights so everything was illuminated by flashlights or camera lights. The journalists started poking around. The morgue freezers were open. With the murky lighting, rank smell and those puddles of water, I won't be back anytime soon.

Rebuild or relocate?

The people leading this tour want the building torn down, relocating the hospital to a brand new building. But others want to restore Charity. What it all comes down to is money. Where will the cash come from and when will it arrive? This is a predicament for many New Orleanians as they try to rebuild their lives.

In the Charity emergency room is the hospital's motto: Where the unusual occurs and miracles happen.

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