The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped by a larger-than-expected 79,000 last week as the amount of hurricane-related applications dropped sharply, a government report showed Thursday.

First-time claims for state unemployment insurance aid plunged to 356,000 in the week ended Sept. 24 from an upwardly revised 435,000 the prior week, well below the 420,000 forecast by Wall Street (search).

It was the largest one-week drop in new claims since August 1992.

Unadjusted for seasonal factors, jobless claims linked to Hurricane Katrina totaled 60,000 last week, down from 108,000 the prior week, a Labor Department (search) analyst said.

He said revisions to the figures were likely, given that some claims were still being collected using unconventional methods including mobile units and call centers.

There was no impact yet from Hurricane Rita (search), the analyst said.

The closely watched four-week moving average of claims rose for the seventh straight week, climbing to 385,500, the highest level since October 2003.

The number of people who remained on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose 144,000 to 2.80 million, the largest one-week increase since April 2001.