The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared a catastrophe for severe tropical cyclone Debbie, which made landfall in northern Queensland as a major Category 4 storm, with the potential to cause billions in losses.
Severe tropical cyclone Debbie came ashore between Bowen and Airlie Beach after having raked the Whitsunday’s and surrounding islands with wind gusts as high as 260kph (160mph).
Rainfall amounts of up to 500mm are anticipated in some areas as cyclone Debbie comes ashore, with the potential for localised inundation and flooding and the cyclone is expected to affect areas as much as 100km in land from the coast, according to meteorologists.
Storm surge is also expected to cause losses, with some forecasts suggesting a surge of up to 2 metres or higher.
Right now cyclone Debbie is beginning to move inland and winds have declined to Category 3 level, with gusts of up to 205kph.
ICA CEO Rob Whelan said insurers are on alert; “Insurers are already taking calls from policyholders, and many have teams standing by to enter the impact zone, assess claims and deliver assistance to their customers.
“Insurers are prioritising claims from this disaster, and using a triage system to get assistance to those policyholders in most urgent need of assistance first.
“Anyone needing to lodge a claim should let their insurer know as soon as they can. The insurer can then start processing the claim, and organise any emergency repairs, or temporary accommodation where applicable.”
The ICA noted that cyclones like Debbie can cause insurance and reinsurance industry losses into the billions of Australian dollars. The storm is expected to have some level of hit on international reinsurance firms, as we wrote yesterday here.
Cyclone Yasi in February 2011 struck less populated areas as a Category 5 and still caused insured losses of $1.4 billion. Since 2006, insurers and reinsurers have paid for over $3.6 billion of cyclone-related claims in Queensland, and more than $3.2 billion due to flooding.
Whelan continued; “Even a Category 1 cyclone can generate wind gusts up to 125kmh, sufficient to fell trees or send debris flying dangerously.
“The torrential rainfall being dumped by this system also creates the risk of flooding. Residents should listen carefully to local media, and follow the advice of emergency services and government authorities.
“Fortunately, North Queensland property owners know they are highly exposed to cyclones and floods. They are more likely to be insured than most Australians and also have a higher level of coverage.”