INSURERS are bracing for a new round of claims following heavy rains and flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales at the weekend as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald pounded the coast.
The severe weather is from the first cyclone of the season. More are expected over the next few months and insurers will be on edge until they have a clearer idea of their overall claims exposure.
Several thousand claims have been lodged already, although more are expected as the full extent of the damage becomes apparent.
The bad weather at the weekend comes hard on the heels of the heavy cost of the recent bushfires in Tasmania, NSW and Victoria, with claims from the Tasmanian fires alone costing $42 million so far.
With the Queensland rain and flooding, the insurers with the largest operations in the area, such as Suncorp, IAG and QBE, are expected to face the next round of claims. Suncorp has increased call centre staff to cope with the anticipated high level of calls.
"Claims volumes will come through over the next few days," a Suncorp spokeswoman said.
Several homes and commercial properties in and around Bundaberg have been flooded, along with areas of Brisbane such as Redcliffe, Scarborough and Bribie Island. In NSW, properties from Byron Bay to Coffs Harbour were hit by the weather as it moved south.
On Sunday, the Insurance Council of Australia declared parts of Queensland a "catastrophe" with moderate to severe damage experienced in communities from the NSW border all the way north to Cairns, with substantial damage reported in the Wide Bay area in particular, the council said.
"The declaration of a catastrophe . . . means insurers have established a taskforce to help co-ordinate the recovery process," the council's chief executive, Rob Whelan said.
Insurers had received several thousand claims by noon on Sunday, he said, although it was too early to estimate insurance losses.
The number of claims will rise in the coming days as property owners returned from holidays. At least 150 properties had reportedly sustained severe damage in the Wide Bay region alone.
"Insurers are greatly concerned about extreme weather expected over the next few days in Queensland, with severe inundation already having been experienced in several towns and cities, and major flood warnings now in place for every river from Cairns to the (NSW) border," Mr Whelan said.
"The general insurance industry had anticipated a very wet summer this year, while also hoping Queensland might avoid a repeat of 2011.
"The weather bureau has warned it's highly possible we will see more before the end of summer."
Since early 2010, the council has declared six catastrophes in Queensland for flooding and cyclone damage, with losses amounting to almost $4 billion.
Apart from the mini-tornadoes that hit some parts of Queensland, there had not been a great deal of wind, so that most claims in Queensland were not expected to be large, typically a broken window that might have resulted in a small rain-affected area, the Suncorp spokeswoman said.
"There has been no major inundation yet, so we anticipate it will be smaller claims," she said.