Insurers nervous over Oswald
THE insurance sector is bracing for a new round of claims following heavy rains and flooding in Queensland and northern NSW at the weekend as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald pounded the coast.
The severe weather from the first cyclone of the season, and more expected over the next few months, are tipped to keep the insurance industry on edge until it has a clearer idea of the overall claims exposure.
Several thousand claims have been lodged, and that figure is expected to swell 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 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 next round of claims are expected to face insurers with the largest operations in the area, such as Suncorp, IAG and QBE.
Suncorp said it increased call centre staff to cope with the anticipated high level of calls. "Claims volumes will come through over the next few days," a 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 have been 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 north to Cairns, and 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 as property owners return from holidays. At least 150 properties had reportedly sustained severe damage in the Wide Bay region.
"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 of almost $4 billion.
Most claims in Queensland are not expected to be large, the Suncorp spokeswoman said.