ICA declares bushfires a catastrophe

08/01/2016 - 13:25

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The small Western Australian township of Yarloop appears to have been virtually wiped out and three residents are unaccounted for following an unpredictable bushfire, with the Insurance Council of Australia declaring it a catastrophe.

ICA declares bushfires a catastrophe
An emergency warning remains in place for the Shires of Waroona and Harvey, including Waroona, Hamel, Cookenup, Yarloop, Harvey, Preston Beach and Lake Clifton.

The small Western Australian township of Yarloop appears to have been virtually wiped out and three residents are unaccounted for following an unpredictable bushfire, with the Insurance Council of Australia declaring it a catastrophe.

The town, which has a population of 545, has lost about 95 homes, historic buildings, workshops, factories, the post office, a fire station and part of a local school.

An emergency warning remains in place for the Shires of Waroona and Harvey, including Waroona, Hamel, Cookenup, Yarloop, Harvey, Preston Beach and Lake Clifton.

The out-of-control and unpredictable blaze, which was sparked by lightning on Wednesday, has doubled in size overnight due to strong winds and has now burnt more than 53,000 hectares.

The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the fire a catastrophe.

“The ICA has yet to receive any reliable estimates of claims numbers given many evacuated residents have not yet been able to return to inspect their residencies ,” ICA said in a statement.

However it estimated the value of insured losses in the tens of millions of dollars so far.

Chief executive Rob Whelan said the catastrophe declaration would enable insurers to fully harness the industry’s disaster response resources.

“The ICA has been liaising with the WA government and emergency services, and has decided to escalate the industry’s response due to the severity of the situation,” Mr Whelan said.

Under the catastrophe declaration the ICA has:

·         Established a taskforce of senior insurance industry figures to address and identify any issues that arise

·         Activated its disaster hotline – 1800 734 621 – helping policyholders if they are uncertain which insurer they are with, or have general inquiries about the claims process

·         Started preparing to send ICA staff to work in evacuation and recovery centres with affected policyholders and government officials

Mr Whelan urged residents in the bushfire-threatened areas to prioritise their safety over protecting property.

“The situation around towns including Yarloop, Waroona, Hamel and Cookenup remains dangerous and fluid,” he said.

“We urge residents in those areas to closely monitor the situation and listen carefully to advice from the emergency services.

“Insurers are already standing by to offer guidance and process claims, so anyone who’s suffered losses should contact their insurer as soon as they’re able.

“Insurers will prioritise these cases to help reduce the stress these policyholders are suffering.”

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the response to the Esperance fires in November was overwhelming, and urged people to continue to help those in desperate need of aid by redirecting their focus towards the current fires.

“The Esperance community has been overwhelmed by the continued support from people six weeks after the fires and is in the process of using donated funds and goods to repair their livelihoods,” Mr Park said.

“We now ask people to focus their attention on the Waroona-Harvey fires and donate much needed cash through the GoFundMe account which has been set up by WAFarmers.

“Cash is the most practical donation at this stage as people slowly start to assess the damage and determine what they need to repair their lives.

“Once the fires are extinguished and the full extent of the damage can be determined, more information about how to support the affected communities will be provided.”

Mr Park urged residents to heed emergency warnings and to work cooperatively with emergency service personnel and volunteers.

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