THE damage bill for insurers from flooding in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald continues to mount, with almost 12,000 claims lodged by late Tuesday.
Queensland remains the centre of the disaster, with about 9800 claims involving some $116 million, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.
With towns such as Bundaberg still battling floodwaters, insurance claims are certain to keep rising, said Campbell Fuller, the council's head of corporate affairs.
Significantly for insurers, though, the toll from New South Wales looks likely to be much smaller, with the first 2000 claims involving about $10 million in insured losses, he said. "Most of the claims in NSW are directly related to storm damage." In contrast, more of the claims north of the border involve inundation.
NSW towns such as Grafton and Lismore, while under threat earlier this week from rising floodwater, were relatively better prepared with flood levees and other mitigation works, he said.
The council and several big insurers such as IAG and Suncorp have been pressing governments to invest more to limit the impact of natural disasters. Such measures include levees and buybacks for residents in the most flood-prone regions.
The Queensland government had taken "very positive steps" to mitigate damage, Mr Fuller said, although it would not make much difference to the costs of the latest floods.
"We expect insurance losses to develop materially from here, far exceeding the $80 million cost from the January 2013 bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria," said Kieren Chidgey, an equity researcher at Deutsche Bank. "However, with flood levels mostly well below those seen in 2011 and the cities of Brisbane and Ipswich spared from major flooding, losses are unlikely to be anywhere on the scale of the $2.4 billion from the January 2011 floods."
Suncorp, the owner of AAMI and GIO, is likely to be the worst affected of the big insurance companies, already fielding about 4000 claims for flood and storm damage.
Insurance Australia Group, which operates the NRMA Insurance and CGU businesses, said it had about 2000 claims.
QBE has fielded 700 claims, and expects the final number to be well below those of the 2011 Queensland floods.
"We will have further clarity later in the week as people return to their homes and the water subsides," a QBE spokesman said.
Westpac and its St George unit had received about 500 claims, mostly in Queensland, with losses in the order of "a few million dollars" so far, a spokesman for the bank said.
The insurers said they were financially prepared for the latest natural disaster, due to a relatively quiet 2012, so there is unlikely to be an immediate impact on premiums.
Shares in two of the three companies fell heavily when trade resumed on Tuesday after the long weekend.
Suncorp shares lost 21¢, or 1.9 per cent, to $10.70 and QBE dropped 31¢, or 2.7 per cent, to $11.28. IAG was down for most of the day but recovered to add 1¢ to $4.93. Westpac shares rose 67¢, or 2.4 per cent, to $28.22.