National briefs: Hurricane Sandy causes cell phone service woes in Northeast

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WASHINGTON -- Cell phone calls in the Northeast region were continuing to fail Wednesday because one-quarter of the transmission sites in areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy were knocked out and many of those are not expected to come back online for several days at least, government officials said.

The Federal Communications Commission also said "a small number" of 911 service centers -- the sites that receive emergency calls and link them with first responders -- also were out of service after the storm, the second time in recent months that 911 service has suffered weather-related failures. Many emergency calls were rerouted, officials said, to call centers that survived the storm.

Hospital's evacuation

NEW YORK -- New York University Langone Medical Center, the 705-bed hospital in lower Manhattan that assured city officials it was ready for Hurricane Sandy, stood dark and empty a day after the storm rolled through.

As wind and rain from the largest-ever Atlantic storm pounded New York City on Monday, electricity at NYU-Langone went out. Then a backup generator failed. In the middle of the night, medical staff had no choice but to carry patients down dark stairwells and relocate them to other facilities.

The patient evacuation is prompting questions from trustees and the city's mayor about how prepared the medical center was for the storm. Blame is being placed on the building's outdated backup power system, which has raised concern that aging infrastructure at U.S. hospitals has created a risk for similar outages that jeopardize patient care.

Emergency aid for Pa.

HARRISBURG -- The federal government earlier this week granted part of Pennsylvania's request for emergency assistance in preparing for and responding to the storm that hit the state on Monday and Tuesday.

The state will receive direct federal assistance, such as bottles of water and workers, said Ruth Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. The federal government did not award requests for debris removal and emergency protective measures, she said.

The state has not determined the cost of preparing for the storm or of its response so far, Ms. Miller said. She said it will take several weeks to determine the final costs.

Rats fleeing to streets

NEW YORK -- There are millions of rats in New York City, and -- usually, blessedly -- they remain hidden, under the streets, inside subway tunnels and in and around the waterfront.

Hurricane Sandy, though, has changed that.

The city's health department said quite a few rats most likely had died in the deep floodwaters inside the subway tunnels. But stronger rats probably fled the rising waters and emerged on the surface.

According to the health department, New Yorkers need not worry about increased numbers of rats in terms of disease.

Iran offers assistance

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian rescuers and aid workers are on standby to fly to New York City to provide assistance to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, the head of Iran's Red Crescent Organization said Wednesday.

Mahmud Mozaffar, who leads the organization, said his men stand ready to board planes and fly to the United States to help out, assuming the U.S. government accepts Iran's offer, he said. The two countries have no diplomatic relations. -- Compiled from news services

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