Over the past 12 years, working out of Mackay, I have been privileged to work with numerous insurance companies, assisting people in repairing their houses in the aftermath of natural disasters. With another cyclone season looming, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some tips on how best to protect yourself, your property and be best prepared in case an insurance claim needs to be made.
The first point I would like to make is that each and every cyclone needs to be taken very seriously. Many people I speak to have become complacent about cyclones and don’t treat them as seriously as they should as they feel they have experienced these many times before. In many cases, however, the areas where they have experienced these cyclones are far from the destructive eye of the cyclone, and the conditions experienced by them are merely from the comparatively mild peripheral winds.
As an example – if we look back to March 2017, the category 4 Cyclone Debbie impacted the Whitsunday region. This cyclone caused catastrophic damage throughout the area, going as far as to strip every leaf off the trees in the hills surrounding Airlie Beach.
Further south, in Mackay, strong winds were experienced, although nothing close to the destructive intensities recorded further up in Airlie Beach. In fact, a cyclone of the intensity of Cyclone Debbie has not crossed the coast at Mackay since 1918. Unfortunately, therefore, the previous experience of cyclonic events crossing at a distance to a particular region may not prepare people for the eventuality of a direct hit by a category 4 or 5 cyclone.
In order to be prepared, I would re-iterate the excellent advice provided by the government. Most damage caused during a cyclone is caused by flying debris. It is critical that backyards are tidied up, garden debris is removed and any shade sails taken down. Remember – you are not only doing this to protect your own property, but also your neighbours. This flying debris can end up anywhere and, to borrow a phrase, can act as flying razor blades.
The following is a picture taken after Hurricane Andrew in the US of a piece of ply which has embedded itself in a palm tree. Had this impacted a person, the results would have been fatal.
Once anything loose in the backyard has been removed or secured, I would strongly recommend taping all windows of your property with a strong cloth tape in a star shaped pattern. This will act to strengthen your glazing and provide a measure of protection in the event that it is impacted by flying debris. Secure and lock all your doors and windows. Some years ago, there was some advice about keeping the windows and doors on the leeward side of your house open to reduce internal pressures. Please note that the direction of cyclonic gusts and eddies as the winds wrap around your house can be unpredictable. In the event that one of these unpredictable gusts wrap around and start impacting the portion of your house with open windows and doors, this will increase the risk of damage to your property and it may prove difficult to then close these openings. For this reason, my advice would be to secure all windows and doors and avoid the risk.
In the event that you live in a low lying area, please remember that a lot of damage can be caused by post-cyclonic flooding. Most council websites contain online information about areas that are anticipated to flood. It is important that you make yourself aware of these, and if at risk, install pre-emptive barriers at locations where water could flood into your property using sand bags and water-proof tarpaulins. Monitor your council website as they will quite often provide free access to sand prior to a cyclonic event to help you do this.
Above all, it is critical that you monitor government advice about evacuation. In the event that the government advises evacuation, do it. Housing construction standards have varied greatly in the past, and there are many houses built in cyclonic regions which do not comply with current standards. There is no guarantee that your house will survive a cyclone undamaged, and you may personally be at risk – particularly if you live in an older building – in the event that the house begins to fail under cyclonic wind loading.
Finally, in order to prepare for the worst, I would strongly recommend taking extensive photos of your property before the cyclone hits. A lot of the trouble insurance companies have when determining a claim is attempting to determine what damage has been caused by the cyclone, and what had occurred previously. By taking an extensive set of photos of your property, focusing on areas most at risk of damage such as the roof, external cladding and windows, you will be able to assist the insurer provide a speedy resolution to any potential claim by providing them with an accurate photographic record of the pre-existing state of your residence.
I hope this brief summary of my recommendations is of assistance to those of you who live in the Tropical North. It is a wonderful place to live, and by taking cyclones seriously and taking sensible pre-emptive measures such as those outlined above we will be best placed to enjoy another tropical Summer safely.
Image sourced from Whitsunday Times via https://www.whitsundaytimes.com.au/news/shute-harbour-a-war-zone-after-cyclone-debbie/3160540/#/0