Close to 10,000 claims have already been lodged in the aftermath of Cyclone Marcia but that total is expected to climb once residents and assessors gain access to the most heavily devastated areas, which one broker has described as looking like a war zone.
On Friday, the Category 5 cyclone smashed communities along the central coast of Queensland with winds reaching 230 km/h, leaving Rockhampton and surrounding settlements reeling from the damage and power outages.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared Cyclone Marcia a catastrophe, with 8950 claims from policyholders lodged by Tuesday, with estimated insurance losses of at least $53.4 million.
Peter Peirano, Principal Broker of Piranha Insurance Brokers in Rockhampton, says much of the area now resembles a war zone.
“I have been in the business for a long time and I have never been through this before. It was just an incredible amount of water and destructive winds,” he says.
“The claims are certainly flying in, but we still have people without power. On the weekend, it took four hours to get petrol from the only two petrol stations open. Every street has trees down. Not just one street, but every street.”
With many homes and businesses still lacking power, Peirano says they have staff and their families sleeping in the Piranha office.
“I got a generator down from Townsville to get the office going, so we were up and going and ready to load claims on Monday morning,” he says.
“We also have our staff sleeping here at night time because they have no power at home. It is like a dormitory at night, with husbands, wives and kids. Then in the morning we pack up all the bedding and start work.
“We can’t keep up in loading the claims and I think it will take a very long time to get over this. The insurance companies have responded very well. They are all doing their best.”
Ausure Insurance Brokers Owner Manager Jeff Harris has had to relocate outside Rockhamption in order to handle claims.
“I have lived in the area my whole life and I have never seen anything like it. The devastation is something I have never experienced,” he says.
“It has been an eye opener for many people. I think a lot of people in the regional cities think they are a bit immune to this sort of thing but it highlights the fact just how fragile our infrastructure is. Many people think when the power goes out it will just be up and running in 12 hours, but it could be weeks and now everyone is in panic mode.
“But we are getting through it and we are getting claims lodged. I don’t have any clients that have any life-threatening injuries or total losses, but just a lot of damage to roofs and out-buildings.”
ICA CEO Rob Whelan says the insurance industry was prepared in advance for the thousands of claims but with assessors only beginning to arrive and residents getting power back, those numbers are expected to climb.
“More claims are expected to be lodged as residents return to their homes and assess the extent of damage to their property and possessions – we encourage all affected policyholders to call their insurer and work through the claims process as soon as practicable,” he says.
“The Insurance Council expects more claims will be lodged over the next few days. It’s understandable that many householders will be more focused on food, water and electricity than contacting their insurer.”