Body found in US hotel water tank

Last updated 13:42 21/02/2013

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US health officials have issued a do-not-drink order at a downtown Los Angeles hotel where a missing Canadian woman's body was found in the rooftop water supply.

The disclosure contradicts a previous police statement that the water had been deemed safe.

Allen Solomon, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said the agency's laboratory was analysing the water from the rooftop cistern.

Results were expected tonight.

A maintenance worker at 600-room the historic Cecil Hotel found the remains of 21-year-old Elisa Lam on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) after guests complained about low water pressure.

The opening at the top of the cistern was too small to accommodate firefighters and equipment, so they had to cut a hole in the storage tank to recover Lam's body.

Before she died, hotel surveillance footage showed Lam inside an elevator pushing buttons and sticking her head out the doors, looking in both directions.

Lam, of Vancouver, British Columbia, traveled alone to Los Angeles on January 26 and was last seen five days later by workers at the hotel. 

Police are working to determine if her death was the result of foul play or an accident.

HOLIDAY RUINED

British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife said water had only dribbled out of the taps at the Cecil Hotel for days.

On Tuesday, after showering, brushing their teeth and drinking some of the tap water, they headed down to the lobby and found out why.

Lam's body had been discovered at the bottom of one of four cisterns on the roof of the historic hotel near Skid Row.

The tanks provide water for hotel taps and would have been used by guests for washing and drinking.

"The moment we found out, we felt a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally, especially having drank the water, we're not well mentally," Michael Baugh, 27, said.

The discovery turned the Baughs' two-week vacation into a nightmare.

"We'd hop in the shower, imagine, the water sprinkles out, and this is the only appropriate word, it dribbled out," Baugh said.

He and his wife Sabina, 27, who were on their first trip to the US, had booked their room as part of a tour package and had "no idea that it was in a dodgy area," he said.

The hotel is on Main Street in a part of downtown where efforts at gentrification often conflicts with homelessness and crime.

"When you look at the area, it's not surprising," Baugh said of the discovery of the body.

"Everyone we spoke to said why are you staying there? Don't walk at night in that area, stay indoors."

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The hotel has four cisterns on its roof that are each about three metres tall, 1.37 metres wide and hold at least 3,800 litres of water.

They are on a platform at least three metres above the roof.

To get to the tanks, someone would have to go to the top floor then take a staircase with a locked door and emergency alarm preventing roof access.

Another ladder would have to be taken to the platform and a person would have to climb the side of the tank.

The Cecil Hotel was built in the 1920s and refurbished several years ago.

It had once been the occasional home of infamous serial killers such as Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, and Austrian prison author Jack Unterweger, who was convicted of murdering nine prostitutes in Europe and the US, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Baugh and his wife had planned to go to SeaWorld on Wednesday but instead camped in the hotel lobby for more than 12 hours because they refused to sign a health risk waiver to stay in their rooms as they waited to hear back from their tour agency to be placed elsewhere.

"We've got nowhere to go, we've got all our luggage with us," Michael Baugh said.

They also called their family and the British Embassy trying to figure out what to do.

The couple hadn't touched any water at the hotel since learning the body had been discovered.

Eventually, they were placed at another downtown hotel with a less than sterling reputation, from what they heard.

"We're just going from one dodgy place to another," Baugh said, resigned, "but at least there's water."

- AP

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