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Hailstorm losses top $300 million, catastrophe declared

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Hailstorms that dented cars and smashed windows in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne over the past two days have caused losses estimated at $320 million.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared a catastrophe for the storms, which also brought torrential rain and strong winds in some areas. More than 29,000 claims have been received so far, with about two-thirds of those for damage to vehicles.

Canberra was particularly hard-hit by brief but destructive storms yesterday, as golf-ball sized hail fell during the afternoon.

The Australian National University reported damage to “a large number of buildings” at its Acton campus, vehicles at various office carparks were pounded and CSIRO greenhouses were shattered, ruining studies on crop sustainability.

ICA says 56% of the claims lodged are from the ACT, 34% from Victoria and 10% from NSW.

Severe thunderstorms also crossed Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, with the State Emergency Service responding to 445 jobs in Sutherland Shire after large hail pummelled the area south of the central city.

In Melbourne, shoppers were evacuated from a Woolworths supermarket in the north-eastern suburb of Templestowe on Sunday when parts of the ceiling collapsed. Nearby Bulleen and parts of the eastern suburbs also took the brunt of storms.

ICA Head of Risk and Operations Karl Sullivan says thousands of additional claims will probably be lodged this week as property owners inspect damage and contact their insurers.

The storms mark the second hailstorm catastrophe to be declared in recent months. Losses from a south-east Queensland event on November 17 had reached $166 million by December 20, with 22,000 claims lodged.

The latest damage comes as recent rainfall and cooler temperatures have helped contain bushfires, easing the threat, particularly in NSW. Alerts from the Rural Fire Service show no immediate danger to communities from fires still burning in the state.

In Victoria, a number of fires in eastern Gippsland are not yet under control, the VicEmergency website says, while some areas also remain closed for safety reasons as residents wait to return.

Insured losses from the bushfire catastrophe declared in November have reached $1.41 billion from 16,380 claims, an ICA Friday update says.

The event encompasses 183 postcodes across four states, with NSW accounting for 81% of claims lodged. Victoria and SA represent 8% of the claims each and Queensland the remaining 3%.