The state announced a slight decrease in New Jersey's unemployment rate on Thursday, but the data was gathered before Superstorm Sandy blasted the state.

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New Jersey's jobless rate edged downward to 9.7% in October, still well above the 7.9% national figure. The state shed 11,700 jobs, mostly in the leisure and hospitality industry.

Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Hal Wirths noted private sector employment in New Jersey increased by 73,600 jobs since Governor Chris Christie took office, but he said the numbers should be bleak in the months to come because of the storm late last month.

"Next month's numbers - they'll just be awful," Wirths admitted.

He said since Sandy, initial unemployment claims have been coming in at a pace that is three to four times greater than normal. Activity was so strong at one point, it crashed the department's phones and computer system.

"We just had a massive amount of people who simply had nowhere to go to work or, in some cases, couldn't get to work because of the destruction in their neighborhoods," said Wirths.

The department has had workers on 12-hour shifts to deal with the added volume.

The state recently launched special unemployment assistance for those who were left jobless by the storm.

Wirths continued, "Hopefully, a lot of those people were just out of work for one week...We know the schools were all closed and the casinos were all closed."

Wirths said online is still the best way to file for unemployment compensation; there are various deadlines for storm-related claims, depending on the county. To avoid overload, Wirths suggested folks use the state site during off hours.