St Francis blaze insurance claims mount
Cape Town – Although impossible to estimate the cost of the devastation after a huge weekend fire razed over 80 homes in St Francis Bay, short-term insurer Santam [JSE:SNT] said on Tuesday that claims so far stood at R21m.
Thatch Risk Acceptance (TRA), an insurance underwriter writing on behalf of Compass Insurance Company, said on Monday that while it cannot estimate the total rand impact at this stage, it notes that the values of thatched homes in the area underwritten by TRA vary from R1m to R16m.
“We are already aware of 27 homes that we underwrite that have been affected – including a body corporate containing eight homes,” said TRA MD Natasja Blok.
The clean-up of the fire is likely to take some time and the damage will come at a huge cost for the entire insurance industry impossible to predict at this stage, said one local specialist insurance underwriter.
“At this point, I would estimate the total number of homes affected at almost 80, but the situation is changing all the time," said Blok.
“It will take some days before we have a clear idea of the full impact of the fire but we had loss adjustors there... to ensure that we can settle these claims as soon as possible.
"A large percentage of claims on thatched roof houses are fire-related and a house can burn to the ground in 10 minutes flat so it often ends up being a total loss. It should be noted that we can already do interim payments for our clients to assist them in acquiring some basic necessities.”
She noted that there are two main residential areas in St Francis, one which is totally thatched and another that is standard construction.
“We insure a lot of houses in the thatched residential section, which are obviously the most prone to fire damage. It’s essential for homeowners to have the correct insurance in place.
"For a total loss, we pay out the sum insured and with thatched roofed houses, there is often not much in the structure that can be retained. Fire claims are usually faster to pay out than flood claims, as with a fire you are pretty certain of what has happened.”
Blok said that the total insurance pay-out is likely to be considerable, although she is not yet able to pinpoint an exact figure. “We will settle the claims as quickly and painlessly as possible – there is no point in delaying the claim, especially with a shock like this."
Owing to the fast burning nature of thatch, homeowners often have little time to save any precious belongings, added Blok. “Losing one’s home and valuables in a fire is traumatic enough for any homeowner, but if they then discover that they were not correctly insured in terms of the value of their home and its contents, the agony is so much worse.”
In terms of future rebuilding, Blok said that there are various fire retardant treatments available in the market, which are effective in delaying the spread of a fire over an entire thatched roof.
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