The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared a catastrophe as a result of damage from Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which powered across the coast of Queensland near Airlie Beach this afternoon.
The Category 4 cyclone bought gusts of up to 262 kmh on Hamilton Island before it battered the mainland with destructive winds and heavy rains.
ICA CEO Rob Whelan says it is too early to gauge the extent of the damage, but insurers are anticipating thousands of claims.
“Insurers are already taking calls from policyholders, and many insurers have teams standing by to enter the impact zone, assess claims and deliver assistance to their customers,” he said.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned of a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crossed the coast. It said its inland path is likely to lead to major river flooding over a broad area this week.
“Areas of heavy rain with the potential to cause severe flash flooding have developed around the Central Coast and Whitsundays district,” the bureau said. “These heavy rain areas are expected to spread further inland through central and south-eastern Queensland.”
Widespread daily rainfall totals of 150-250mm are expected with significantly higher totals possible.
Cyclone Yasi, which struck less populated areas of Queensland further north in February 2011 as a category five cyclone, caused insured losses of $1.4 billion.
ICA says that since 2006 insurers have paid more than $3.6 billion in cyclone-related claims in Queensland, and more than $3.2 billion in flood claims