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In Peoria, Illinois, down the middle of Water Street, 30,000 sandbags are stacked on top of barriers. This is Peoria's new floodwall, its first ever. People started building the wall last week to hold back water from the Illinois River. This week, the river crested at an all time high.
From members station WCBU in Peoria, Tanya Koonce reports.
TANYA KOONCE, BYLINE: Dick Diekemper is rowing a boat across the parking lot of Peoria's River Station with Ryan Bill. They've been manning the flooded building. That's right, they're in a boat in a parking lot.
DICK DIEKEMPER: Going to run aground here.
RYAN BILL: Thank you for the beer you bought.
DIEKEMPER: Happy birthday.
BILL: Thank you. See ya, Dick.
KOONCE: Diekemper is a property manager for the century-old red brick building. He just finished hours of shopvaccing and soaking up the water seeping into the main floor, while water is still being pumped out of the basement. Diekemper says the building, which houses a martini bar, is being maintained by two people around the clock.
DIEKEMPER: The restrooms are working and the pizza oven is working, too. So we just had a little pizza in there. And we're, you know, keeping up our spirits and keeping up our strength, so that we can save the building and keep it in as good a shape as possible.
KOONCE: Diekemper says they think they've saved it from serious damage, but won't know until the water goes down enough to inspect the foundation. This area is facing the toughest conditions because it sits between the Illinois River and Peoria's Water Street; that was elevated about three years ago in an effort to get it above flood stage. That's worked, so far.
A block away sits the lowest point on Peoria's Water Street. The city is running pumps there to keep the river from backing up into the storm drains behind the wall. City employees are working 16-hour shifts to keep watch over the pumping station.
Not surprisingly, this is all a big sightseeing draw and city worker Jose Anaya says that's presenting some problems.
JOSE ANAYA: The challenge right now is people. They just climb those walls up there and we have to keep an eye on them, because there are a lot of kids. And honestly, I'm really concerned about them because the river, I mean, is very dangerous, you know.
KOONCE: The Illinois River is receding for now at about an inch per hour. But emergency management officials up and down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers are still urging caution. On the Illinois, barge traffic remains shut down for nearly 200 miles. Forecasts for a snow thaw this weekend in states to the north could induce more water into both the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, meaning is could be sometime before the water recedes behind floodwalls.
For NPR News, I'm Tanya Koonce in Peoria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.