Bloomberg News

Insurers Count Cost in Queensland as Floods Peak

February 07, 2012

(Corrects story first published Feb. 7 to show that estimates make take several weeks.)

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Australia’s insurers including Suncorp Group Ltd. and Insurance Australia Group Ltd. are calculating the cost of floods that have inundated communities in southwest Queensland and forced thousands from their homes.

The Insurance Council of Australia, whose members sell more than 90 percent of the country’s premiums, said in a statement it will take several weeks to gain a preliminary estimate of the value of flood claims. The council last week declared a catastrophe for the area after thousands of claims reached insurers.

Hail, thunderstorms, floods and winds are forecast today about 600 kilometers west of Brisbane, Queensland’s capital, the Bureau of Meteorology said. Authorities have evacuated towns and built up levees, one year after natural disasters cost the economy about A$9 billion ($9.7 billion).

“We’ll have a clearer picture when people return to their homes and make claims,” said Chris Newlan, a spokesman for Suncorp, the largest Brisbane-based insurer. “We’re still determining overall numbers.”

The Balonne River at St George, a town of about 3,000 people located 500 kilometers west of Brisbane, will peak today after rising to a record early yesterday, the Bureau of Meteorology said. The river is expected to rise to about 14 meters (46 feet), below a previous forecast of 15 meters.

Suncorp fell 0.6 percent to A$8.18 today in Sydney, its third day of declines. Insurance Australia Group, a Sydney-based insurer known as IAG, fell 1 percent to A$2.87.

Severe Thunderstorms

“Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding and large hailstones in the warning area over the next several hours,” the bureau’s Queensland office said in a statement at 11:44 a.m. local time that covered an area stretching more than 500 kilometers northwest from Goondiwindi, inland from Brisbane on the border with New South Wales.

Floods in Queensland and the neighboring state of New South Wales have caused an estimated A$50 million of damage, federal Minister for Emergency Management Robert McClelland said in a Feb. 3 statement. About 30,000 properties were affected in Queensland last year by flooding that left dozens of people dead and disrupted trade as mines were shut.

“IAG businesses have received around 600 claims from the weather event that has predominantly impacted Moree in New South Wales and southwest Queensland since Jan. 30,” Insurance Australia said in a statement today. “Now that waters are receding, assessors have been able to access impacted areas.”

Cotton Damage

The deluge may damage as much as 10 percent of the cotton crop in Australia, the world’s third-biggest shipper, according to Olam International Ltd.

PrimeAg Australia Ltd., the agricultural investor that has farms in New South Wales and Queensland, said flood damage has been “minimal” so far, and farm dams have enough water to irrigate crops in most areas for at least a year.

“PrimeAg infrastructure and crops have so far escaped major flood damage,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Corish said in a statement. “Our dryland cotton has benefited from the recent rain and has the potential to perform well against forecast production.”

PrimeAg rose 2.9 percent to A$1.06, its first advance in four days.

Mechanical Diggers

Authorities in St George used mechanical diggers to build barriers to contain the swollen river. Australian Broadcasting Corp. footage today showed floodwaters coursing through the town’s streets, almost covering road signs.

The water in the town reached the maximum height of the levee in some sections, Balonne Shire Council said on its website. The town is suffering from some sewerage failures, the evacuation center is closed to new arrivals and residents are barred from returning home, the council said. The Moonie Highway, the main road heading east toward Brisbane, is closed.

In New South Wales, emergency services warned residents in the rural towns of Bourke, about 700 kilometers northwest of Sydney, Goodooga and Walgett to stock up on food, fuel, medicine and other essential items and to relocate livestock to higher grounds.

--Editor: Edward Johnson

-0- Feb/07/2012 02:47 GMT

To contact the reporter on this story: Angus Whitley in Sydney at awhitley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net


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