Ex-tropical cyclone Debbie hands insurers big bill
Hundreds of insurance claims are pouring in as flood-hit parts of New Zealand pick up the pieces. But there is a warning that as many as a third of the affected population may have no contents insurance.
The Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe is now largely under water in what has been described as a one-in-500-year flood.
Jimmy Higgins, executive general manager of claims at Suncorp, which operates insurance firm Vero in New Zealand, said it had received 300 claims by this morning.
He said it was too early to say how much the bill for fixing the flood damage might be that number of claims was expected to rise substantially.
"Our assessment of properties has begun where it has been possible to get access to properties," he said.
"For areas affected by flooding, including Edgecumbe, we will be ready to get into homes as soon as the flooding subsides, and to help our customers who have been affected by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie. In many cases customers will be covered for alternative accommodation, if it is required."
A spokeswoman for IAG, which operates brands including State and AMI, said staff were going in to Edgecumbe on Thursday to assess the situation.
"Last night there was a lot of focus on Whanganui, and while some storm water has lapped over the stock banks, there has been no significant damage from any breach of the river bank to report, though there has been surface flooding from the high volume of rain," she said.
"As at this morning we had received in excess of 250 claims for damage related to the storm event. As anticipated the geographic spread of claims as broadened consistent with the path of ex-cyclone Debbie. The majority of claims received are from the Auckland region, followed by Central North Island, Lower North Island and South Island."
Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said it would be six weeks before the scale of insured losses would be. "This is in a very early stage. This event is still going through Christchurch at the moment."
But he said it was safe to expect a third to a quarter of the population would not have any contents insurance to cover their damage. Most houses would be covered, he said.
People without contents cover were predominantly younger and lower-income households, he said. "Often they respond to a disaster situation by looking to extended family for financial support to get through ... but they have less means to provide support than an insurance policy might have been able to provide."
When Matata was hit by floods in 2005, destroying 27 houses, many people were left significantly out of pocket because they did not have insurance cover for their losses.
Grafton said the storm was one of the largest experienced over the past two or three years.
FMG chief operations officer Conrad Wilkinshire said it had received about 100 claims but expected more over the coming weeks.
"Most claims to date have been for flood damage to buildings and contents. There are also claims for wind damage to farm buildings."
Higgins said customers in flood-affected areas should take care. If it was safe to do so, they should remove carpets and soft furnishing, but take photos and keep a sample of the damages.
People should lodge a claim as soon as it was practicable to do so, he said.