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U.K. FLOOD LOSSES AT L100 MILLION

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LONDON -- Total insured damages from recent storms and flooding in Wales and southwest England are still being calculated but are likely to cost insurers about L100 million ($168 million), according to the Assn. of British Insurers.

That estimate is based on early claim information and past flood experiences. If accurate, these latest losses would be lower than those connected with the U.K. Easter floods, which caused L137 million ($230 million) of insured damage (BI, April 20).

Other estimates, which factor in insured and uninsured losses, say total damages could run as high as L500 million ($838 million). No major commercial claims are expected.

Both the ABI and claims adjusters agree that it could take weeks for an accurate damage figure to emerge.

In the wake of the recent floods, the performance of the U.K. Environment Agency was criticized. The agency came underscrutiny after the easter floods.

An ABI spokesman said it is unlikely that the latest flood losses, even when taken in conjunction with the Easter flood losses, will lead to increased premiums.

"The losses are spread across all insurers, so one or two incidents is not enough to push up premiums," he said. "If (such losses) were to become a regular occurrence across the winter, it may be different."

The flooding followed a weekend of violent storms and heavy rain that battered Wales and southwest England from Oct. 23 to 25, causing 12 deaths. Wind speeds reached up to 70 mph, and more than an inch of rain fell in some areas.

At the peak of the stormy weather, there were 250 flood warnings along various stretches of rivers throughout the United Kingdom. Heavy rain and localized flooding was continuing in Wales well into last week, making it difficult to predict total financial damages.

A spokesman for the U.K. claims adjusting firm of Crawford-THG Ltd. said claims are coming in "thick and fast" but that it is too early to get an accurate picture of total losses.

Claims adjuster Ellis & Buckle's national service center in Cardiff, Wales, took 500 calls from policyholders over the weekend.

An Ellis & Buckle spokesman agreed that while river levels remain high, the full extent of damage cannot be measured yet.

It could take weeks for swollen rivers in Wales to subside fully, allowing a clear appraisal of damage, said Alan Wiseman, president of the U.K. Institute of Public Loss Assessors.

"It is still a case of wait and see," he said.

But Mr. Wiseman estimated that total insured and uninsured damages resulting from the storms could reach L500 million.

He said that estimate includes damage to municipal government properties -- which in the United Kingdom are typically self-insured -- plus business interruption losses, mainly in the transportation industry.

Ferry services were particularly hard-hit by the storms. Irish Sea ferry crossings between the United Kingdom and Ireland were almost completely suspended over the weekend. English Channel ferry crossings from Dover were subject to long delays, but there were no reports of canceled services. Brittany Ferries Ltd., of Plymouth, south England, was forced to cancel two return services to Santander, Spain, af-ter heavy winds caused minor hull damage to one of its ferries.

Mr. Wiseman said there also were several reports of transportion companies' vehicles being stranded by the flooding. Those strandings could lead to further business interruption claims, he believes. He said there had been no reports of flooded industrial parks, which means major commercial property claims are unlikely.

Jeffrey Salmon, managing director of London-based claims adjustor Salmon Assessors Ltd., agreed that early flood reports indicate household properties are the worst affected and there is little commercial damage.

Mr. Salmon estimates total damages resulting from the floods could reach between L400 million ($671 million) and L500 million.

But the ABI spokesman said he believed such figures are too high; he said the ABI's estimate of L100 million of insured damage is more realistic.

As with the Easter floods, the U.K. Environment Agency, which is responsible for public flood prevention and planning in England and Wales, was criticized for its performance during the latest floods.

Most criticism again was centered on the agency's warning systems.

The Environment Agency was criticized last month in an independent report on the Easter floods and, subsequently, committed itself to improving its flood warning and defense systems (BI, Oct. 19).

But Mr. Salmon said he saw no improvement in the Environment Agency's performance.

Mr. Wiseman agreed that the agency's systems again were ineffective. "The warnings were no better than last time," he said.

An Environment Agency spokesman said it is too early for the agency to make a formal statement about its performance during the latest floods.

He said the agency always conducts a review of its performance after such events and will "take on board" any criticism. "We will look at the implications of these floods and see if further improvements in defenses and warnings need to be made in the wake of the report," the spokesman said.

Most of the Environment Agency's actions since the release of the Easter floods report have been focused on improving flood defenses in the parts of central England most affected by those floods, the spokesman said. He said some work has started on improving national flood warning and river gauging systems. But, he noted, the agency is not due to release its full plan on such initiatives until later this month.