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March flood costs pass $5 billion, overtake Cyclone Tracy

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Insured losses from February-March floods that hit Queensland and NSW have climbed to $5.134 billion to be Australia’s second costliest natural catastrophe, only exceeded by Sydney’s 1999 hailstorm.

An update from the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) today says more than $2 billion has already been paid to insurance customers impacted by the event, which is the nation’s costliest flood.

“The flood is continuing to break near 50-year records, demonstrating just how devasting this catastrophe was for so many communities,” ICA CEO Andrew Hall said.

A 6% rise since the last cost estimate takes losses above those of 1974’s Cyclone Tracy, which caused normalised losses of $5.04 billion when it hit Darwin on Christmas Day, demolishing or badly damaging 90% of homes and killing 65.

The only other Australian weather event to overtake Cyclone Tracy by cost is the Sydney hailstorm two decades ago, which came with a record $5.57 billion insured-loss bill.

Of the 230,000 claims made from the February-March floods, 36% are now finalised and closed. The average claim is $22,000, with personal claims averaging $17,000 and commercial claims $71,000. The number and value of claims is evenly split between the two states.

Mr Hall says insurers continue to employ more people and contractors to resolve claims for impacted customers, however delays are being experienced because of a shortage of experts needed to make assessments, as well as “significant constraints” on builders and building materials.

“The scale and impact of the increasing likelihood of further events make it imperative that the rebuild and reconstruction from this flood significantly improves the resilience of these communities to future extreme weather events,” he said.

The ICA is calling for increased government investment to improve resilience, and says it looks forward to the release of the NSW government’s independent flood inquiry into the floods, led by Mary O’Kane and Michael Fuller, which will consider action to adapt to future flood risks.

“The Insurance Council looks forward to reviewing the findings of the O’Kane-Fuller Inquiry and will continue to advocate strongly for governments to increase investment in effective long-term mitigation solutions for communities at risk of flood and other extreme weather events,” Mr Hall said.