Cyclone Gabrielle: Owners of flood-damaged properties still waiting for insurance companies to tally damage

By Amy Williams RNZ

The owners of many flood-ravaged properties are still waiting for insurance companies to tally the damage, with some moving house to house to stretch their temporary accommodation allowance as far as possible.

It has taken over a month for Raipoia Brightwell and her husband to clean the silt from their Gisborne house, dispose of belongings and remove the black mould that set in after the floodwaters receded.

"We worked very hard getting rid of the silt. It was like trying to get glue out of the walls and clothes and everything."

It cost them $28,000 to remove silt from their lawn, which they have re-sown, but the house, nestled by the river, is expected to be a write-off.

The yellow-stickered property has been assessed by their insurer, but they have yet to hear back.

"We're hoping to come home as soon as possible. We just can't be going from house to house and staying with people who were really great in helping us but you can only live with other people for so long. You just want to come home and the hold-up at the moment is the insurance," Brightwell said.

It has taken over a month for Raipoia Brightwell and her husband to clean the silt and black mould from their house.
It has taken over a month for Raipoia Brightwell and her husband to clean the silt and black mould from their house. Photo credit: RNZ/ Kate Green

"It's just the not knowing and it makes us more anxious by the day."

They hope to rebuild nearer the road, where floodwaters did not reach.

Brightwell was told to call the insurer if they did not hear back within a fortnight, but she said call wait times were close to two hours.

Thousands expected to use new service

Almost 300 people have so far asked the government's claims resolution service to help them with insurance claims related to the Auckland anniversary flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle.

But its director Darren Wright said that was expected to balloon to 3500 before the year was out.

The service is helping people navigate insurance claims, providing advice and in some instances case managing on behalf of homeowners.

Wright said they were hearing from people who could not get hold of their insurers.

"We're certainly getting a flow of people coming in, saying that they are struggling to get hold of their insurer, struggling to get their insurer to come back to them but this is a really major event," he said.

"We know that insurers are certainly gearing up and some of them are bringing in people from Australia [for] support."

Most requests for help were from homeowners with red and yellow-stickered properties.

Wright said most just needed the right information, while 24 were being case managed in relation to the two weather events.

"They tend to be people who might be struggling more with how the whole process works, [they] may be more vulnerable in certain ways," he said.

As for how long it will take for insurance claims to be settled, Wright said that was hard to say.

"That's an impossible thing to answer at this stage. We certainly know from other experiences that it will take some time, particularly those who have land damage or are affected by red or yellow placarding," he said.

"There's an enormous amount of work that needs to be done."

Engineering reports delaying process

Wellington lawyer Emma Gabor completed her doctoral thesis in insurance law relating to natural disasters.

She said there would be delays for settling some significant claims, due to the wait to acquire expert engineering reports.

"We are likely to see a lag. I've just attended a seminar where one larger insurer said that at the moment they are anticipating it will take between eight to 12 months for reports to come through, so that's the timeframe they are looking at."

She said it was too early for disputes to arise, as people were still lodging claims, but there would be complications.

"From an insurance perspective the easier claims are the ones that are a total write-off," Gabor said.

"The claims I anticipate will be the most difficult ones are the ones that will have a land damage element to it, rather than just the house itself."

The Claims Resolution Service will visit Auckland and Hawke's Bay to meet with homeowners in coming weeks.