British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife say water had only dribbled out of the taps at the downtown Los Angeles hotel for days.
On Tuesday, after showering, brushing their teeth and drinking some of the tap water, they headed down to the lobby of the Cecil Hotel 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.
The remains of Elisa Lam, 21, were found by a maintenance worker at the 600-room hotel that charges $US65 ($63) 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 Sergeant Rudy Lopez called it suspicious and said a coroner’s investigation will determine Lam’s cause of death.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials issued a do-not-drink order on Tuesday while its lab analyses the water, said Terrance Powell, a director co-ordinating 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 sanitise its food equipment before reopening.
“Our biggest concern is going to be faecal contamination because of the body in the water,” Powell said. He said the likelihood of contamination is “minimal” given the large amount of water the body was found in, but the department is being extra cautious.
Powell said the hotel hired a water treatment specialist after the department required it to do so to disinfect its plumbing lines.
Lam’s body was found on 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.
Lopez said there are no security cameras on the roof.
The Cecil Hotel was built in the 1920s and refurbished several years ago. The hotel is on Main Street in a part of downtown where efforts at gentrification often conflicts with homelessness and crime. 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.