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US health officials check water after body found in hotel's roof top cistern

LOS ANGELES -- British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife said water had only dribbled out of the taps at the downtown 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.

The body of a Canadian woman 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.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials issued a do-not-drink order Tuesday while its lab analyzes the water, said Terrance Powell, a director coordinating the department's response. The disclosure contradicts a previous police statement that the water had been deemed safe. Results of the testing were expected by Thursday.

Powell said the water was also used for cooking in the hotel; a coffee shop in the hotel would remain closed and has been instructed to sanitize its food equipment before reopening.

The remains of Elisa Lam, 21, were found by a maintenance worker at the 600-room hotel that charges US$65 a night after guests complained about the low water pressure.

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

LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez called it suspicious and said a coroner's investigation will determine Lam's cause of death.

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

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

Lopez said the hotel has four cisterns on its roof that are each about 10 feet (3 meters) tall, 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) wide and hold at least 1,000 gallons (3,785 liters) of water pumped up from city pipes.

Lam's body was found Tuesday morning at the bottom of one cistern that was about three-quarters full of water, Lopez said.

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

The cisterns are on a platform at least 10 feet (3.05 meters) 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.

Lopez said there are no security cameras on the roof.

Lam intended to travel to Santa Cruz, about 350 miles (563.24 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. Officials said she tended to use public transportation and had been in touch with her family daily until she disappeared.

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