Brisbane’s Residents Return To Flood Hit Homes, File Claims

January 14, 2011

By Geoffrey Rogow and Gavin Lower, Dow Jones Wire Services

SYDNEY (Dow Jones)–Brisbane residents returned to their water-logged homes Friday and began the arduous process of cleaning up and gauging the scale of damage after floods that spilled across the city’s central district eased.

Aerial television footage of flood affected suburbs showed roads and backyards of homes covered in brown mud left behind by receding floodwaters. Damaged furniture was piled up outside homes for collection by authorities. In communities west of Brisbane that bore the brunt of the deluge described by onlookers as an “inland tsunami”, concrete slabs are the only reminder of sheds and dwellings swept away by the torrent.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the death toll from floods this week has risen to 16 with the discovery of a woman’s body Friday. Bligh said in a press conference that 53 people are still unaccounted for and authorities have grave fears for 12 of these persons. Around the state 86 separate communities have been inundated or cut off by floodwaters, with 17,500 homes and more than 3,000 businesses impacted. The mining industry, a key component of the state’s economy, is also still dealing with flooding. Bligh said, 32 mines in the coal-rich Bowen Basin, north of Brisbane, are still out of action with “vast volumes” of water to be pumped out of pits. She described a region west of Brisbane badly devastated by floodwaters like “a war zone”.

“It’s been a terrible, terrible week and I suspect it’s going to be months, if not years, before it gets much better,” said one exhausted employee of the Brisbane City Council.

Along with picking up the pieces of their battered homes, the first wave of insurance claims in rural Queensland started to flow in. In total, 7,000 claims have been filed adding up to 365 million Australian dollars (US$363.8 million) in compensation, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.

That figure doesn’t even include claims from damage in Brisbane, or from large mining companies.

To help streamline the insurance process, Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh on Friday put pressure on insurers during meetings with industry executives, asking to resolve claims quickly stemming from the devastation and broaden the scope of claims. Bligh called on insurers to “act with compassion” and exercise flexibility with those hit by the floods.

“Anyone with a dispute over their insurance assessment is encouraged to engage in a free dispute resolution process that is binding on insurance companies,” said Shorten.

When including the cost of rebuilding ports throughout Queensland, northern New South Wales and parts of Brisbane, the eventual cost to the economy could hit A$13 billion, according to estimates from by investment bank JPMorgan. Add in unforeseen losses to revenue and the rebuilding hit to be felt by the state’s booming mining industry and the total cost could reach more than A$15 billion.

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