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No disease-causing bacteria in water at hotel where body was found

February 21, 2013 |  5:01 pm
Emergency personnel gather Tuesday on the roof of the Hotel Cecil on Main Street.  Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

No traces of disease-causing bacteria were found in the water supply of a downtown L.A. hotel where authorities discovered the body of a Canadian tourist inside a rooftop water tank this week, health officials said Thursday.

A do-not-drink order implemented Tuesday was expected to be in place through the weekend until the L.A. County Department of Public Health determines that the water is suitable for drinking purposes, said Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health.

Authorities discovered the body of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old tourist from Vancouver, Canada, inside a water tank on the hotel's roof Tuesday. A maintenance worker found the body after receiving complaints from Cecil residents about low water pressure.

An autopsy was completed Thursday, but Lam’s cause of death will be deferred pending toxicology tests, coroner's officials said. The results could take six to eight weeks.

Health officials tested for disease-causing coliforms at points inside the 15-story Cecil Hotel.

“The tests came back negative, meaning that if they were in the water they are no longer viable,” Bellomo said. “They could’ve been in there, but they’re no longer viable, meaning they’re dead.”

Bacteria, in particular from fecal matter, could have put resident’s health at risk, Bellomo said. But he suspects the chlorine inside the water probably killed the bacteria, which normally lives inside humans.

The Cecil Hotel is expected to drain and flush its tanks and water lines before sanitizing them, a process that could take two to three days. At that point, the Department of Public Health is to conduct another series of tests before deeming the water safe to drink.

About a dozen residents refused to leave the building and are being provided with bottled water, Bellomo said. About 50 residents were staying at the hotel when the body was found; most of them were moved to the Historic Mayfair Hotel in downtown L.A.

The only appropriate use of the Hotel Cecil's water supply was to flush the toilet, Bellomo said.

The remaining residents, many of whom have lived at the Cecil for years, are required to sign a waiver every time they enter the hotel. Cecil employees declined to provide a copy of the waiver to The Times. Repeated calls were not returned.

A steady stream of water gushed from a pipe on the street in front of the Cecil on Thursday afternoon. The entrance to the lobby was flooded, with a bucket and towels sitting on the floor to catch the water.

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-- Adolfo Flores

Photo: Emergency personnel gather Tuesday on the roof of the Hotel Cecil on Main Street. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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