Claims may amount to billions – insurers

Destruction in Knysna ‘the worst disaster of its kind’

Thousands of insurance claims are pouring in as fire damage in the Southern and Eastern Cape over the past week mounts into hundreds of millions of rands.

Insurance providers say they have been inundated with claims and calls and, accumulatively, claims submitted to various brokers contacted by The Herald are already in excess of R600-million.

Some insurers say claims could ultimately run into the billions.

Those who insure property on the Garden Route have described the fires as the most tragic event they have dealt with in more than 20 years.

Insurers have deployed extra manpower and assessors to assist those whose houses were gutted and damaged.

Some have set up temporary offices in an attempt to fasttrack claims, while most companies are proactively contacting their clients.

Garden Route Insurance Brokers head Dan Payton said they estimated the claims for fire and storm damage in the Knysna and Plettenberg Bay area to be about R300-million.

“To date we have about 85 to 90 claims, including the total loss of a hotel,” he said.

“These fires are by far the most tragic event we have helped the community deal with.”

In an attempt to put worried relatives of victims at ease, Payton said his offices in Knysna were being used by their worst-affected clients to access free Wi-Fi and to Skype relatives.

Outsurance client relations head Natasha Kawulesar said the destruction in Knysna was the worst disaster of its kind.

“The storm and fires have caused such devastation to our clients and we are trying our utmost to help them recover as soon as possible,” she said.

“We have about 930 claims, of which about 150 relate to the fires, with a combined estimate of R200-million.

“These figures may, however, change.”

She said they had also sent extra staff to affected areas and “are trying our best to get our clients back on their feet”.

Old Mutual Insure claims head Hennie Nortje said hundreds of millions of rands worth of claims were expected from their clients.

“The overall damage [cost] is expected to be significantly worse – remember there will be uninsured properties that will add to this value,” he said.

They had received many multimillion-rand claims, of which the largest to date was a R15-million claim on a damaged college.

Nortje said temporary offices and a dedicated claims e-mail facility had been established to assist claimants.

“We are also making interim payments of between R10 000 and R50 000 on registration of claims,” he said.

The devastation wrought by the fires was one of the worst in the firm’s 185-year history.

Santam claims head Ebrahim Asmal said claims were already more than R100-million.

“We are still gathering all the necessary information to give us a full picture of the impact of the catastrophe, and assessing the impact of these events on our business,” he said.

To cater for the claims, a temporary office had been set up in Knysna. Asmal said they were more than adequately reinsured to pay out claims that were already over R100-million, but it might affect premiums later.

“We are reinsured against such catastrophes,” he said.

“The fires and severe storms are very unusual events and our reinsurers are of the same view.

“While there may be an impact on premiums we do not expect a severe knee-jerk reaction from reinsurers and insurers.”

Thornhill businessman and farmer Jonathan Fowke said claims submitted to insurance providers were being paid out without hesitation.

He said damage from the Thornhill fires was expected to run into more millions.

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