The number of U.S. workers filing for initial jobless aid fell sharply last week, a government report showed Thursday, pushing the claims total to its lowest point since April.

First-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits dropped 25,000 to 303,000 the week ended Nov. 12, from an upwardly revised 328,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.

Wall Street economists had forecast new claims to slip to 322,000 from the original reading of 326,000 the week ended Nov. 5.

There were about 10,000 new claims last week related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, bringing the total since Sept. 3 linked to the devastating Gulf Coast storms to 545,000 claims, not adjusted for seasonal factors, a Labor Department analyst said.

Hurricane Wilma, which struck Florida late last month, led to about 9,000 unadjusted claims for a running total of 16,400 related claims since the storm hit.

The closely watched four-week moving average of claims, considered a better gauge of labor market activity because it flattens weekly volatility, fell for the sixth straight week.

The four-week average dropped to 321,500 the week ended Nov. 12 from 335,000 the prior week.

The number of people still on the rolls after drawing a week of benefits rose slightly to 2.79 million the week ended Nov. 5, the latest period for which data are available.