updated 11/3/2005 9:16:42 AM ET 2005-11-03T14:16:42

Job losses related to the devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes climbed to 521,400 last week with layoffs from Hurricane Wilma showing up for the first time, the government reported Thursday.

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The Labor Department counted an additional 18,000 layoffs linked to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and 1,400 layoffs tied to Hurricane Wilma, which hit south Florida on Oct. 24. The total of 19,400 storm-related claims was the smallest weekly increase in the nine weeks the government has been tracking the damage the hurricanes have done to the nation’s labor market.

The 19,400 jobless claims tied to the hurricanes was out of total jobless claims of 323,000 last week, the smallest number of laid off workers applying for unemployment benefits since the week ending Aug. 27, two days before Katrina slammed ashore near New Orleans.

Last week’s storm-related claims, even with the addition of Wilma, were the smallest number in the nine weeks the government has been tracking the damage the storms have done to the nation’s labor market. Storm-related claims peaked with a rise of 108,000 the week ending Sept. 17.

Before Katrina, the country’s costliest natural disaster, the nation’s unemployment rate had fallen to a four-year low of 4.9 percent in August.

However, the storms helped push the jobless rate up to 5.1 percent in September. Many economists believe the unemployment rate held steady at this level in October.

They are forecasting that the economy managed to create 100,000 payroll jobs during October as job gains in other regions helped offset the losses that occurred along the Gulf Coast. The government will report the actual figures on Friday.

The overall economy grew at a solid annual rate of 3.8 percent in the third quarter although before the hurricanes hit, analysts had been predicting that the increase in the gross domestic product would be well above 4 percent.

Many analysts believe the hurricanes, which destroyed homes and businesses and forced the evacuation of millions of people, will reduce growth by as much as a full percentage point in the last half of this year. However, they are forecasting that the massive rebuilding will boost overall economic activity in 2006.

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