updated 9/29/2005 9:20:42 AM ET 2005-09-29T13:20:42

The number of Americans thrown out of work by Hurricane Katrina climbed by another 60,000 last week, pushing the total number of unemployed workers seeking jobless benefits because of the storm to 279,000.

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The latest weekly jobless figure comes four weeks after the storm slammed into the Gulf Coast in late August, shutting down thousands of businesses and forcing people to evacuate.

Analysts said they expect more jobless claims to come in from Katrina as a flood of applications is processed, many taken by unconventional means such as mobile units dispatched to shelters. Those claims will be mixed with jobless benefits that are expected to rise because of Hurricane Rita, which hit Texas and Louisiana last Saturday.

The 279,000 total Katrina-related claims included the 60,000 filed last week and a revised 108,000 claims filed two weeks ago, a figure that had originally been put at 103,000 claims. In the first two weeks after the storm hit, claims had totaled 20,000 and 91,000.

The overall jobless applications filed last week totaled 356,000, a drop of 79,000 from the previous week’s level of 435,000, which had been the highest weekly total in more than two years.

Some private economists have predicted that as many as a half million people could lose their jobs because of Katrina, which is expected to be the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history.

Rita is also expected to exact an economic toll because of the business disruptions caused by the evacuations, flooding and loss of power. However, damage estimates have been lower than for Katrina.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Katrina could result in a loss of as many as 400,000 jobs in the final four months of this year and slash economic growth by as much as a full percentage point.

However, the CBO and private economists believe growth will be boosted next year, reflecting the billions of dollars in government and private money that will be spent on rebuilding efforts.

For the week ending Sept. 17, the government estimated that the 15,568 claims filed in Louisiana were all Katrina related. The government said most of the 10,711 claims filed in Mississippi for that week also were related to the hurricane. Those two states had the biggest increase of any states for that week.

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