Retired public school teachers Joseph and Barbara Downey say they waited weeks to receive mailed prescriptions - long after their critical medications ran out.

Kanaya Flowers, 25, an applicant to be a 9-1-1 operator, received a mailed invitation to take Part II of an exam - a month after the exam was given and the job filled.

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The circulation manager of an Indian newspaper said that he lost 30 percent of his Philadelphia area circulation in the past six months because his mailed newspapers are delivered up to three weeks late.

Yesterday, these and dozens of other customer complaints of delayed or missing mail poured into the Daily News in response to a front-page story documenting severe mail backlogs this year at the chronically understaffed U.S. Postal Service processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia.

The story described how senior managers allegedly ordered the daily mail count to be falsified by undercounting items by the hundreds of thousands, as overflowing unsorted-mail bins multiplied on the plant floor, and trailers of unsorted mail were routed to other processing plants, only to return for sorting days later.

Sometimes mail was destroyed in wake of the severe staffing shortages - which occurred as a result of a yearlong ban on overtime, say employees, put in place by managers who received performance bonuses.

In the wake of the article, the Daily News heard tales of woe not only from customers but also from local businesses, which we will chronicle tomorrow, and anecdotes from letter carriers that we will publish Thursday.

In Fox Chase, Joseph Downey said that he takes Coumadin, a blood thinner, for a heart condition. He used to call Express Scripts, a mail-order pharmacy in Bensalem, on a Friday and his prescription would arrive the following Friday, said his wife, Barbara.

After a two-week wait recently, he called for another mail prescription. To hold him over until then, he visited his primary physican to get a seven-day refill - a more expensive option - at a local pharmacy, he said.

When his mail-order still didn't arrive, he said, he had to see his cardiologist who gave him free Coumadin samples.

The prescription finally was delivered more than three weeks after it first was called in. A week later, the second prescription arrived, which meant that he was billed for both.

Last August, Jill Schiller sent invitations to her Nov. 1 wedding, then worried when she failed to receive RSVPs. In mid-October, she received an RSVP postmarked Sept. 2.

"I don't know how many were lost, or just not sent," she said. "I get very nervous now when people say they're sending us things through the mail," such as wedding presents.

Vincente Emmanuel, regional circulation manager for the Kerala Express, said that he's lost 120 subscriptions in the last six months.

Customers tell him: "Why should I [resubscribe] when it arrives two, three weeks late?"

Published in Chicago, the Kerala Express, a national 33,000-circulation newspaper, is mailed out on Tuesday and arrives in Washington Township, N.J., four days later, he said. The postal service here "virtually killed our newspaper." *