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Cyclone George cleanup reveals flaws with disaster recoveries

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A year after Cyclone George tore through WA’s Pilbara region, a local council is telling victims who have had insurance claims rejected to apply for relief.

In March last year the Category 5 cyclone damaged Pilbara properties and killed three people at remote mine sites.

Last week the Port Hedland Council said cyclone victims who have had their claims denied may be eligible for financial help.

Mayor Stan Martin says residents and organisations can still access funds from a cyclone relief fund, which has so far distributed more than $320,000 among the community.

But local broker Mia Tree told all her clients had their claims paid out long ago.

“I don’t know of anyone who is still having problems,” said Ms Tree, who is the manager of Insurance Advisernet’s Karratha office. “But being a local broker we have tradesmen ready to go. We are prepared for cyclones here, so by the time Cyclone George came around we were ready.”

She says some direct insurers may still be dealing with claims, but the problem lies not so much with the industry as in finding tradesmen to repair properties.

Tradesmen in the resources-rich region are in short supply. “Tradies get good money working on the mines, so they’re not going to be grilled by insurers to do a job,” she said.

“[Insurers] fly in with their city hats on and their city attitudes and think they are going to tell the local people what they will or will not charge,” she said. “It would not surprise me if there are still plenty more claims to be settled.”

Ms Tree says rather than target insurers, who in most cases are doing the right thing, governments and industry regulators need to focus their energy on setting up “some sort of central point” to deal with natural disasters.