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Melbourne hail storm hits 10,000 vehicles

Not-so-cute dimples: Hail damage to cars could amount to millions of dollars in Victoria.

Catastrophe declared by insurers as full extent of hail storm becomes clearer

General News logo29 Dec 2011

AT LEAST 10,000 vehicles were damaged in Melbourne’s Christmas Day hail storms, with insurers expecting more claims to be lodged as holiday-makers return home to discover damage over the next two weeks.

Insurers and car repairers have already taken steps to deal with the backlog of claims for smashed windscreens and dented panels, pummeled by the second devastating hail storm in the Victorian capital in two years.

It is yet unclear if the car damage bill will be as severe as the March 2010 storm that swept through the middle of the city, although the earlier event appeared to devastate more car dealerships.

Back then, thousands of new and used vehicles were written off, being auctioned through special hail-damage sales by vehicle auction specialists on behalf of insurers. Just days later, a similar storm hit Perth, causing devastating car damage.

This time in Melbourne, the storms left a trail of smashed cars and buildings through the northern suburbs, again crossing from west to east but in a narrower band with fewer exposed vehicle sales yards.

However, the damage bill is still so big that the Insurance Council of Australia today declared the event a catastrophe.

So far, insurers have received 15,000 claims, two thirds of which relate to damage to vehiclesInsurance Council CEO Rob Whelan said the declaration meant an insurance taskforce had been established and Australian Prudential Regulation Authority would monitor the industry’s response.

“Since Christmas Day, insurance companies have received more than 15,000 claims, including about 11,000 on December 27 and 28 alone,” he said.

“We expect this will grow as many Victorians return from their holidays to discover their properties and vehicles have been damaged.

“It is still too early to provide an accurate estimate of losses. So far, about one-third of the claims relate to damage to houses and businesses, with the rest for damage to vehicles.” The hail was accompanied by torrential rain, adding to the woes for car owners whose vehicles suffered smashed glass.

The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria’s Glass Assist has set up emergency workshops and called back staff from holidays to fix smashed windscreens.

Major insurer AAMI has also established a temporary processing centre at Brimbank, in one of the hardest hit areas in Melbourne’s north-west, to assess damaged vehicles en mass.

The company is likely to repeat its 2010 strategy of establishing specialist hail damage repair workshops in affected areas.

Two years ago, these workshops were manned by hail damage repair experts from as far away as the United States.

Because the Christmas break left insurers undermanned, claim phone lines were jammed in the first day or two, frustrating customers.

But Mr Whelan said the insurers had taken steps to handle the deluge of calls.

“Hundreds of staff have volunteered to return from their holidays to help insurance companies handle inquiries and claims from policyholders, and most call centres are now back to full strength,” he said.

“Call waiting times are progressively being reduced, and we thank affected Victorians for their patience over the past few days.”

The Melbourne storms become the eighth catastrophe declared by the general insurance industry in 2011, with insurable losses through catastrophes likely to exceed $4.5 billion, compared with $2.144 billion in 2010.

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