Australia’s Third 2013 Catastrophe Tests Insurers, Flood Models

Flooding caused by Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald is testing the Australian government’s revamped flood mapping and modeling efforts just as the country rebounds from bushfires that caused an estimated $69 million in insured losses.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared a major section of Queensland a “catastrophe” following rains and river flooding caused by Oswald. The designation means the insurance industry will coordinate its response to the disaster.

The ICA has declared six catastrophes in Queensland for flooding and cyclone damage since 2010, with losses of almost $4 billion.

This is also the third catastrophe declared by the ICA in 2013 following bushfires in south-eastern Tasmania and northern New South Wales.

As a result of the current flooding insurers have already received “several thousand claims” by noon Sunday with reports that 150 homes were severely damaged in the country’s Wide Bay region, according to the ICA. That number was expected to increase significantly as Australian’s return from the Australia Day holiday, the statement added.

“Insurers are greatly concerned about extreme weather expected over the next few days in Queensland, with severe inundation already having been experienced in several towns and cities, and major flood warnings now in place for every river from Cairns to the border,” according to a statement from ICA CEO Rob Whelan.

The floods caused by Oswald are a major test of new flood models and maps that were created following the 2010 – 2011 floods in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria that caused $3.78 billion in insured damage. The poor state of flood models and mapping was a major criticism following those disasters and changes were pushed through as part of Australia’s National Disaster Insurance Review.

Last month the Geoscience Australia launched the National Flood Risk Information Portal, a public site that includes an updated database of over 1300 existing flood studies. The portal’s goal is to “give communities and planners a better understanding of their exposure to floods, as well as assist insurers in developing fair and reasonable policies,” according to a statement last year Australian Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned Monday that Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald is expected to move south into New South Wales with damaging winds, with “peak gusts of around 90km/h.” possible. An earlier forcast also called for heavy rainfall “of around 200mm” and intense localised rainfall in excess of 300mm.

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