Loss adjusters and claims managers have descended in their hundreds on
the far north Queensland regions affected by Cyclone Larry.

One
firm, GAB Robins, has at least 40 staff in the field. Freemans
Australia has 20 in the field and Suncorp, the dominant insurance
company in Queensland, reportedly has more than 50 staff in the field. On
Monday Zurich rushed up staffer Neville Norman who was one of the
Zurich Australia team that spent seven weeks handling catastrophe claims in
the US following Hurricane Katrina.

The
industry appears to be taking a pragmatic approach to the management of
claims in a climate in which many insured businesses and households
still lack power and telephone services, among other basic services.
Brad Mountford of GAB Robins said: “the industry is being quite
flexible … almost throwing out existing methods.” Mr
Mountford said insurers were flexible on quotes, and meeting costs such
as interstate travel for policy holders to stay with family.

One question to be nutted out by insurers is whether or not the damage caused by Cyclone
Larry was storm damage – an insured event – or damage caused by actions of the
sea – an uninsured event. And yet it’s one aspect of this week’s natural disaster that so
far is receiving surprisingly little attention within the insurance
industry.

INAcom has heard that the Bureau of Meteorology has a number
of reports of storm surges of up to two metres that affected some low
lying coastal areas. It was not clear which localities were supposedly
subject to storm surges. No operating tide gauges, which are managed by
Queensland’s Environmental Protection Authority, recorded any unusual
tidal ranges on Monday, though at least one gauge was damaged by the
storm.

ABC Radio on Monday night reported one incident of a storm surge of at least
half a metre at a caravan park in Cowley Beach. The proprietors of the caravan
park, however, said yesterday there few clear signs of sea flooding, though
there was still plenty of damage to individual vans.

There are also numerous reports of river flood damage, including at
Innisfail, where wind action pushed the flood peak on the Johnston River inland,
to the west of the town, before gravity pulled the flood peak back eastward
through the town a second time. Most damage from Cyclone Larry, however, is clearly wind damage, and covered
under typical household and business policies.

The Bureau of Meteorology said yesterday that it may take until today at the
earliest to compile its preliminary report on the behaviour of the cyclone. The
Queensland EPA is working with the Bureau on the report.

As reported in INAcom on Tuesday, farmers of bananas, sugar cane, avocado and
other horticultural crops have been unable to obtain crop insurance for many
years.

Peter Fray

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