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News Summary: Superstorm Sandy drives US weekly unemployment aid applications up to 439,000

CLAIMS SURGE: Superstorm Sandy drove the number of people seeking unemployment benefits up to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 last week, the highest level in 18 months.

STORM DAMAGE: The Labor Department said weekly applications increased by 78,000 mostly because a large number of applications were filed in states damaged by the storm. People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces close and they don't get paid.

MORE DISTORTIONS AHEAD: Economists expect applications will fall back after the impact of the storm passes. But Sandy could distort the unemployment applications figures for two more weeks, Labor Department officials have said.