Earthquake fears on the west coast西海岸担心地震影响 Fingers crossed老天保佑
A row over a rickety viaduct一场关于山区高速路的争吵
AFTERSHOCKS from Japan rattled America's west coast last week, as consumers in California rushed to buy iodine tablets they do not need and politicians in Seattle bickered about a quake-damaged highway many want to demolish.
Scientists say there is no chance that dangerous radiation will cross the Pacific. So the run on potassium iodide pills, which can block the absorption of radioactive iodine, made little sense. Californian health authorities warned residents not to compound their anxiety by eating the pills, which can cause intestinal distress and severe rashes.
In Seattle, meanwhile, the Japanese quake reminded residents that the Pacific north-west is primed for a comparable catastrophe-and is far less prepared than Japan to cope with it. The Cascadia subduction zone, just 50 miles off the coast and stretching from northern California to southern British Columbia, is accumulating stresses that could unleash an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 and generate its own tsunami. The last 'big one'off the coast of Oregon and Washington is believed to have occurred in 1700, and some recent studies suggest that the chance of another occurring within the next 50 years is about one in three.
The pre-eminent symbol of poor earthquake preparedness in the region is Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. It is a grubby-looking, double-decked elevated highway that was built in the 1950s and carries about 110,000 vehicles a day along the city's waterfront. A magnitude-6.8 quake damaged and temporarily closed it in 2001. State experts have since estimated that the odds of an earthquake bringing it down are one in ten over the next decade.
Concern about thousands of commuters being crushed between slabs of falling concrete has pushed the city, state and federal governments to approve a plan that would replace the viaduct with a tunnel. But fear of downtown gridlock is pushing back the closure and demolition of the viaduct until at least 2016, when the tunnel is supposed to be ready.
Having seen the devastation in Japan, Seattle's mayor, Mike McGinn, said on March 14th that the city needs to rethink. He called for the viaduct to be closed next year. He was immediately accused of fear-mongering, not to mention endangering local commerce. And state officials responded by saying that while the highway is vulnerable to an earthquake, the risk is no greater than before Japan's disaster. They said they were simply trying to balance safety with protecting the economy. To that end, they temporarily closed the viaduct last weekend to install new gates that automatically block access one minute after a quake is detected.