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Approximately 2,500 Ceres postal patrons have been locked out of their street cluster mailboxes, and red-faced Ceres post officials are scrambling to find a fix.

"We don't know why or how this happened," said Ceres Postmaster Lee Hoskins. He was unable to say if the widespread problem was a problem with the locks or keys.

The problem is with hundreds of cluster, or gang boxes, that serve neighborhoods. Hoskins said carriers are unable to open the boxes from the back to insert the mail in individual boxes because of what he called a "mechanical issue."

The post office placed a notice on the affected boxes that mail would have to be picked up at the Mitchell Road office until the boxes can be opened again. That has resulted in long lines, angry customers and the office being swamped with phone calls.

"Some people have been very supportive and we understand people's frustrations but we're trying to resolve this as fast as possible," he said.

Hoskins said he has ordered the locks, which are expected to arrive from Washington, D.C. by Thursday or Friday. On Tuesday he was scrambling on the phone to coordinate people to install the locks.

"We ask people to be patient. It could take a long time to install them. But the mail keeps coming in."

Gene Yeakley was one who drove to the post office to collect his mail.

"When I started to pull into the parking lot I could tell something was very wrong," said Yeakley. "After talking to just a few people in line and hearing they were experiencing the same on their streets my hunch was right. It was a very big deal with the post office. They told those who were waiting for their mail to please make another line and move closer to the front windows."

Some expressed concerns that payments dropped in the outgoing mail slots in the cluster boxes were trapped inside. It's unknown if that is the case until the boxes are opened again.

Patrons are only able to retrieve their mail 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. He said customers can always ring the bell by the Dutch door just to the right of the post office entry doors to get service.