Townsville floods: the story on the ground

Just how bad has it been for homeowners and what are insurers doing about it? We talk to one company president to find out

Townsville floods: the story on the ground

Insurance News

By Paul Lucas

Around 82,000 homes ravaged and more than AU$80 million in claims already registered as far back as a week ago – the Townsville floods have already reached the status of a true catastrophe and, as is so often the case, it is now up to the insurance industry to pick up the pieces.

That has been exactly what claims management firm Crawford & Company has been attempting to do over the last few weeks – but despite being the largest independent firm of its type in the world, nothing could have prepared the company’s Australia president Tim Jarman for the sheer scale of devastation he met on the ground.

“Complete neighbourhoods [have been] destroyed by flood waters,” he told Insurance Business. “All personal possessions are destroyed and contents a total loss. Homes will need to be stripped out, sanitised and reinstated. A big challenge will be sourcing alternative accommodation due to the extent of flooding and number of families displaced

“Customers are very emotional and visibly impacted by the extent of devastation. It will take some time for the communities to recover. We are doing our utmost to help people but properties can take some time to dry out from flood claims.

“Mould is a serious issue due to conditions in the region due to the heat and humidity.

“Some schools have been affected and all were closed for several days for safety reasons, during the flooding. There are considerable health issues beginning to arise due to the contaminated water, soils and mosquitos. We understand from recent media reports that there has tragically been one death from infection and 10 hospitalised. Regionally, over 300,000 cattle have been killed by the flood waters; disposing of carcasses is a major issue and presents further health issues.”

So how do loss adjusters cope in such a situation? Jarman explained that it’s been anything but easy.

“Our adjusters have had difficulty getting around due to debris on roads and flooding and there have been problems with wildlife, snakes and crocodiles,” he said. “Health and safety is an important issue. Our adjusters have to sanitise between appointments and wear protective equipment. We have doctors available to support our employees if required. The conditions are very hot and humid, but everyone is pulling together to help restore lives, businesses and communities.”

Lessons have been learned from past events, of course - but Jarman highlights that these floods are “more devastating” than the recent issues in Brisbane due to their extent, the sheer humidity and the safety issues. As a result, they have been holding strategic meetings regularly with clients in an effort to get customers back in their homes as quickly as possible.

“We have implemented a co-ordinated approach with adjusters working in conjunction with our own building consultants, engineers, managed repair and restoration services,” he said. “Clients have provided authority to proceed with an immediate strip out of properties to prevent, as far as possible, growth of mould. We are preparing scopes of works while properties are being stripped out and arranging quotations. We have a fast track approval process in place to get works started as soon as possible and through our managed repair service we have aligned certain builders to insurers so we can ensure we maintain capacity.”

So what advice then does Jarman have for insurance brokers who can expect a bombardment of calls from their clients amid a mass of claims?

“Collect as much information upfront as possible and register flood claims as quickly as possible,” he said. “The longer claims are left then then the greater the damage will be, particularly from mould. Photograph as much of the damage and damaged items as possible before disposing of any items. Keep an itemised list of materials that have to be disposed of.”

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