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After deluge, mobile service still not fully restored for many

A man uses his mobile phone to photograph a closed and flooded subway station in lower Manhattan, in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012.
A man uses his mobile phone to photograph a closed and flooded subway station in New York's lower Manhattan on Tuesday. We don't know if the phone actually made calls, but at least it was put to some use.AP / Richard Drew

Wireless carriers worked diligently Tuesday to get their networks back up and running after Sandy struck, but despite that, outages continued for many mobile customers.

About 25 percent of cell towers were knocked out in states hit by the storm, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Putting those pieces back together has not been safe for wireless workers nor easily doable in heavily flooded areas.

Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier (by subscriber numbers), told NBC News that in the Northeast, 94 percent of its cell sites are "up and running, and all our switching and data centers are functioning normally."

"The majority of the problems are 'out of service' sites resulting from multiple factors, including telco service disruption, power outages and flooding in low lying areas such as the tip of lower Manhattan," said Debra Lewis, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman.

AT&T, the second largest carrier in the U.S., is "experiencing some issues in areas heavily impacted by the storm," spokesman Mark Siegel told NBC News, but, like other carriers, declined to say at what percent its wireless network is operating in states where Sandy struck.

AT&T spent part of Tuesday doing an "on-the-ground assessment of our network for damage, and crews will be working around the clock to restore service. We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so," the spokesman said.

Sprint said Tuesday it is "experiencing service impacts in the states affected by Hurricane Sandy and the concurrent winter weather conditions, particularly in the New York tri-state area, Pennsylvania, and parts of New England."

"These impacts are due to loss of commercial power, flooding, loss of cell site backhaul connections, site access and damaging debris," Sprint spokeswoman Crystal Davis said in a statement to NBC News. 

"Weather and safety conditions are still dire in some areas, but our technicians are assessing the damage and servicing sites as they become known to us and as the areas are deemed safe to enter," she said.

"Given the on-going weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events."

T-Mobile said late Tuesday that its network is "more than 80 percent operational" in New York City, and "more than 90 percent operational" in Washington D.C.

"Mobile network engineers are working as quickly as possible to restore service to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy," T-Mobile said in a statement. "Restoration work continues in the harder hit areas of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, coastal and Northern New Jersey, Connecticut and portions of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia."

If you're in an area that was hit by Sandy, and getting service on your wireless phone now, the next several days and weeks may be tricky as carriers work on their networks. For some tips on how to preserve battery life and other suggestions, you may want to read this.

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