Celebrationless in Seattle

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Score one for the bad guys. While U.S. authorities still hold that they have no credible reason to believe there'll be any New Year's terrorist catastrophes, cities are scaling back on their Y2K celebrations just in case. "This is already an unprecedented, unpredictable New Year's and we did not want to take chances with public safety," said Seattle mayor Paul Schell, announcing that the city has canceled a huge celebration planned for the area surrounding the Space Needle. The Y2K threat has also put a damper on a half-day celebration planned in Philadelphia, in which citizens will follow Mayor Ed Rendell to a different celebratory site each hour. Although that event is going ahead as planned, thousands have canceled — including nearly half of the 1,000 couples expected to participate in a mass wedding at midnight.

While Americans may be unaccustomed to being told they're in danger of being blown to bits on the streets of their own cities, raising public awareness can actually help foil terrorist plots. "Washington is treading a middle path between spreading panic and making the public more alert," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "Of course it's possible that nothing will happen, but there's also obviously a real threat." In public and behind the scenes, the stakes are rising in the waiting game between terrorists and the law, and at least one city is bowing out.