Washington Mutual is laying off 256 workers from its Florence, S.C., support center, a spokesman confirmed today.

This is the second layoff at the Florence support center this year, the spokesman, Tim McGarry, confirmed. In January, 26 workers were let go from the center.

In February, the company said it would close 10 of its 26 home-loan processing centers, eliminating 2,500 jobs.

Washington Mutual, the third-largest U.S. mortgage lender by total volume in 2004, at that time said the cuts represented about 4 percent of a workforce of 60,000 at the Seattle-based savings and loan.

Other home-loan specialists, including Countrywide Financial Corp. in Calabasas, Calif., and Ameriquest Mortgage Co. in Orange, Calif., have reported the effects of the mortgage market slowdown. Loan production at Countrywide was $33 billion in January, compared with $44 billion in December.

Yesterday, the parent company of Ameriquest Mortgage Co. and Town & Country Credit said it will close 229 branch offices and lay off 3,800 employees nationwide as part of a plan to consolidate its retail mortgage lending operations.

Washington Mutual said the current layoffs will help its realignment as it concentrates on higher-margin loans, McGarry confirmed.

The company also plans to bring a secondary mortgage market operation to Florence this summer, which could add 81 jobs, McGarry confirmed.

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