Australia flood hit too early to call-reinsurers

FRANKFURT Mon Jan 3, 2011 6:33am EST

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FRANKFURT Jan 3 (Reuters) - It is too early to estimate damage from severe flooding in northeastern Australia, the world's top three reinsurers Munich Re (MUVGn.DE), Swiss Re RUKN.VX and Hannover Re (HNRGn.DE) said on Monday.

Floods covering a vast area of Australia's coastal northeast have forced some 200,000 residents from their homes and hit commodity exports that are a mainstay of the Australian economy. [ID:nL3E7C3074]

Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser described the floods as a "disaster of biblical proportions" and said the ultimate cost would exceed A$1 billion ($980 million).

Munich Re said in a statement many places had been submerged and cut off from the outside world since the beginning of December.

"It is not yet possible to put an exact figure on the extreme floods in northeastern Australia," the world's biggest reinsurer added.

"Many mines have had to stop operations. Heavy rain in this region is nothing unusual and such weather patterns are accentuated by the prevailing (climate) conditions," Munich Re said.

However, insurance observers say apart from the mines, the region affected has little in the way of industrial infrastructure that is typically more heavily underwritten by insurers and their reinsurance company backers.

Munich Re said natural catastrophes in 2010 caused about $130 billion in economic damage, including insured losses of $37 billion. (Reporting by Jonathan Gould; Additional reporting by Catherine Bosley in Zurich; Editing by David Holmes)

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