The number of layoff announcements by U.S. companies rose to its highest level this year in September and new weekly claims for unemployment benefits shot up to the highest level in nine years — all signs that the Sept. 11 attacks took a major toll on the U.S. employment situation. 

President Bush, saying he heard "the cries of those who have been laid off," pledged to extend unemployment benefits and provide $3 billion in emergency aid to workers laid off because of the assaults.

Job cut announcements by U.S. companies totaled 248,332 in September, up 77 percent from August when companies announced 140,019 layoffs, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said Thursday. 

"September is the largest job-cut month so far in 2001,'' the report said. The number layoff announcements in September is also more than four times greater than during the same month last year. 

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported Thursday that for the work week ending Sept. 29, new jobless claims jumped by a seasonally adjusted 71,000 to 528,000. That came on top of a 64,000 increase in claims the week before, which pushed claims to levels not seen since 1992.

The big advance in the latest claims figures, a government analyst said, in part comes from layoffs in the airline, tourism and other travel-related businesses.

The Challenger Gray report and the weekly jobless claimes come just as analysts await the government's closely watched U.S. employment report for September, which the Labor Department is scheduled to release on Friday. 

Economists polled by Reuters expect the economy outside the farm sector to shed 109,000 jobs in September after having lost 113,000 in August, while the unemployment rate is seen rising to 5.0 percent from 4.9 percent.

The unemployment rate shot up to 4.9 percent in August from 4.5 percent, the biggest one-month jump in more than six years as businesses eliminated 113,000 jobs.

According to the Challenger Gray report, the transportation sector entered the top five job-cutting industries for the first time since January 1997. Several airlines have announced they are slashing thousands of jobs since the attacks brought the international aviation to a costly halt, and passenger traffic plunged. 

Eighty-one percent of the September job cut announcements took place after the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Other sectors ranking high in number of layoff announcement were the technology and telecommunications sectors. Geographically, California is the largest job-cutting state this year, with 221,589 announced so far.

At an appearance at the Labor Department, President Bush announced that unemployment benefits will be extended by 13 weeks in states hit hardest by the attacks. He also encouraged states to sign up children for a government-run health care program. The program already has roughly $11 billion available and unclaimed by the states.

Bush's plans for emergency aid is one element of efforts by the administration and Congress to boost the economy. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said he wanted to work with Congress on a stimulus package in the range of $60 billion to $75 billion, including business and individual tax cuts.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.