WASHINGTON (AP) — An estimated 10,000 workers who lost their jobs because of Hurricane Katrina filed for unemployment benefits last week, the first wave of what is expected to be hundreds of thousands of displaced workers seeking benefits.

Angela Cesere
Ayana Russell walks through the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Grace Temple Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss. yesterday. (AP PHOTO)

The Labor Department said yesterday the 10,000 figure was an estimate of the number of disaster-related claims based on spot checks with claims offices in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and neighboring states such as Texas that have agreed to accept benefit applications from relocated workers.

Overall, 319,000 newly laid off workers filed for claims last week, a drop of 1,000 from the previous week.

Department analysts said the big-picture figure would have been higher if not for the shutdown of many claims offices in the path of the hurricane. Higher numbers of claims are expected in the weeks ahead.

Private economists agreed and said last week’s total probably will be revised higher once the government collects more complete data on benefit filings last week.

“We know that a flood of Katrina-related claims is coming,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital. “The magnitude and the timing are uncertain but the figures will clearly be boosted sharply very soon.”

In other economic news, the Federal Reserve reported that Americans increased their borrowing by $4.39 billion in July, a slowdown after a $14.55 billion increase in debt in June, which had been the biggest increase in eight months.

The increase in consumer credit represented a 2.4 percent advance at an annual rate and pushed total consumer debt in the categories surveyed by the Fed to $2.16 trillion. The July increase reflected a 4.8 percent rise in revolving debt, which includes auto loans, and a 1.5 percent drop in revolving credit, the category that includes credit card debt.

The government had reported that Americans’ personal savings rate dipped to a record low of negative 0.6 percent in July. That meant they dipped into savings or added to their borrowing to finance their purchases in July. Sales of autos soared during the month as people took advantage of attractive sales incentives.

On Wall Street, oil worries and economic uncertainties plagued investors. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 37.57 points to close at 10,595.93.

The Dow had gained 186.13 points in the previous two sessions.

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