PHOTO SPECIAL: More than 70 fires are burning and at least 30 uncontained

The day has been dangerously hot and windy, schools were closed in several regions and anyone without a reason to be in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney was urged to leave the area.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) estimates that 900 claims worth A$100m ($96m) have already been received by insurers, with many more expected in coming days. It has declared a ‘catastrophe’ for the bushfire-affected regions of NSW and a task force has been established to escalate the industry’s response.

The head of Crawford & Co in Australia, Andrew Bart, told GR that it was a “dynamic situation” which the company was monitoring “in real time”. “We have accessed most devastated areas in the Blue Mountains and are dealing with a number of total loss claims,” Bart said. “We have adequate resources available and have people on standby to provide additional resources should the situation alter and it be required.”

Bart said that the volume of claims that Crawfords had received so far was low, and that “at least 90% of them are domestic”. “It appears that the clients that we specifically act for have relatively low exposure compared to the total number of claims that have been reported by the ICA and in the media,” he said.

“It seems the work that has been done by the fire services and emergency services in general has prevented what otherwise would have been a far more devastating situation, both in terms of property loss and human cost.”

Crawfords loss adjuster, Rik Brown, took pictures (see above) of a property in the Blue Mountains community of Yellow Rock, which was devastated by a fire on October 17. “We have been in the fortunate position of having people on our staff who actually reside in the Blue Mountains, but fortunately unaffected themselves,” Bart said. “That has given us the advantage of being able to very quickly access affected areas and assess claims.”

A white paper released recently by the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities forecasts that the cost of natural disasters in Australia will rise from A$6.3bn a year to A$23bn a year in 2050, as population density increases and the severity and frequency of storms, floods, cyclones and bushfires grow.

The Building our Nation’s Resilience to Natural Disasters report estimates that the Australian government spends 560 million a year on post-disaster relief and recovery compared with A$50m on pre-disaster resilience.

Some of the worst disasters in Australia’s history have been in recent years, including the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in which 173 people were killed and more than 800 injured, and the 2010/11 Queensland floods in which 22,000 homes and 7600 businesses were flooded across 94 suburbs.

Mike Wilkins is head of Insurance Australia Group (IAG), which operates general insurance brands such as NRMA Insurance, CGU and Swann Insurance. He said that dealing with bushfires and other nat-cat events was a “people issue as well as an economic issue”.

“It’s about our wellbeing and the wellbeing and safety of our loved ones,” he said. “Through carrying out mitigation works that make our communities safer, government is enhancing the economic and personal wellbeing of all Australians as well as enabling a reduction in insurance premiums for those exposed to natural perils.”