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NSW storms bill estimated at $244 million

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Last week’s Sydney storms caused estimated insurance losses of $244 million from 34,950 claims, and will test the reliability of flood cover definitions.

A hailstorm on Saturday in Sydney’s west has added to claims and calls for emergency help, delaying the clean-up.

And the Bureau of Meteorology says further bad weather may be on the way, with more than 100mm of rain predicted for coastal areas to Sydney’s north towards the end of this week.

NSW Premier Mike Baird says damage from last week’s storm system could run into hundreds of millions of dollars, and repairs to roads and houses may take months.

The storm caused widespread flooding, cut power to 200,000 homes, eroded beaches and stopped ships entering Sydney, amid waves of up to 14.9m.

About 1500 State Emergency Service volunteers responded to more than 19,000 calls, and on Monday morning 48,000 homes were still without power.

By Friday IAG had received more than 15,000 claims, mostly for personal insurance under policies with NRMA Insurance, CGU, Lumley Insurance, WFI and Coles.

On the same day Suncorp had received 7500 claims related to storms and flooding. It predicted the maximum financial impact will be $135 million.

Allan Manning, founder of loss manager LMI Group, says Newcastle and Cessnock in the Hunter region were hardest hit.

“They had 300mm of rainfall in 24 hours in those areas, so the stormwater system could not cope,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

He says the most common damage to businesses such as pubs and clubs involves fallen trees and collapsed roofs.

Flood claims will also come in – but with varying definitions of flood cover, exclusions may apply.

“There is supposed to be a standard definition for flood now, but [insurers] are still getting around it,” Professor Manning said.

“Last time I looked, Coles, for instance, still had a requirement that the flood needs to make an opening in the building. So water washing down the street would be covered, but if it just oozes up under your door, it’s not going to be covered.”

Other possible areas for claims exclusions include debris clean-ups, fallen trees and storm surge. However, policies generally provide cover to remove trees when they affect buildings or contents, or if insurers need to remove them to fix damage.

Insurers last week sent assessors into affected regions to accelerate claims processing.

ICA says claims were made for severe damage to houses and roofs, with most claims for home and contents, mainly light damage caused by rain and wind, and a small number for motor vehicle, commercial and stormwater inundation.

“The big issue will be who is covered for flood,” Insurance Law Service Principal Solicitor Katherine Lane told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

Many insurers now automatically include flood cover in policies, and most have adopted the standard definition of flood, but the NSW claims will test the definition.

“I’m very interested to see what happens with coverage, because my suspicion has always been that the people who are most at risk of flood are not covered, or are poorly covered, or it’s too expensive,” Ms Lane said.

QBE says the storms caused widespread damage across Sydney, the Central Coast (Newcastle) and Hunter region north of Sydney, and the Illawarra south of Sydney (Wollongong).

A spokesman told insuranceNEWS.com.au this morning the company had received just over 1600 claims, mostly small. Assessors are still reviewing damage but it is well within catastrophe cost expectations for this time of year.

Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) CEO Rob Whelan says assessors have prioritised policyholders who suffered the worst damage.

ICA has declared the event a catastrophe, meaning it has established a taskforce of insurers to identify and address issues and has activated its disaster hotline and disaster team.