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Flooding eclipses Quebec tornado damage

Flash flood overwhelms Montreal sewer system. Hundreds of claims coming in, say insurers.

It was just as fast and just as fleeting, but the rain that flooded Montreal earlier this week will hit insurers harder than the tornado that grazed the city’s outskirts just days earlier.

The tornado damage, which included several farm structures and a demolished church, was “minimal” compared to the flooding brought on by over 50 mm of rain that fell in half an hour on May 29, says Jean Marc Laurin, senior vice president at Cunningham Lindsey in Montreal.

The onslaught proved too much for the city’s aging sewer system, sending water into basements, the subway system and even parts of the RESO, the underground system of shops and businesses that extends over 12 square kilometers throughout Montreal. The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art reported that its flooded basement had damaged hundreds of paintings, and both Concordia University and Universite de Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) also suffered damage, according to the CBC.

“[Tuesday’s] storm will leave more of an impact on the insurance industry even though it was less spectacular [than the tornado].” Laurin estimates the damage from the evening rainstorm to be in the millions. “This is a cat [event].”

Flooded basements, vehicles

Sewer backup prompted much of the damage, according to brokers and insurers. The phones started ringing at Fort Insurance almost immediately after the rainstorm, says James Madon, president and CEO of the Montreal-based brokerage. Even the retail space below the brokerage’s de Maisonneuve W. offices was flooded.

Although initial damage seemed severe, the disaster recovery process revealed that damage to most of the firm’s high net worth clients would fall under their deductible, he says. At the lower end, most homes or businesses require light clean-up in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. At the higher end, Fort brokers saw at least one six-figure residential claim related to a flooded basement, he says. Overall, damage was “significant but not unexpected for this type of event.”

Preparation served clients well, Madon says. “We do a lot of underwriting and prepare clients for inundations and floods,” he says, noting that commercial clients with low-lying storage would have stock palletized.

Other brokers are seeing damage beyond basements. The water caused such heavy accumulation on rooftops that drainage systems overflowed into the building systems, and causing ceilings to collapse on the first floor of an office building, says Connie Ciccarello, CEO of Ciccarello Assurances, who also heard of a hotel with water damage to seven floors.  “For those that have been hit–it won’t be small claims,” she says.

At present, Aviva has already received over 500 claims, with most related to sewer back up, some from flooded vehicles and “only a handful” of hail-related claims, says Aviva spokesman Glenn Cooper.

In comparison, the company received less than 10 claims from Mirabel, one of the areas in the tornado’s path. Calls to Groupe Promutuel were not returned by deadline (Intact Insurance will be providing an update later today).

Too soon for tornado numbers

Last week’s tornado didn’t leave St. Benoit de Mirabel and Brownsburg Chatham completely unscathed—Mirabel Mayor Hubert Meilleur told CBC that the damages would hit the $3 million mark. But sparse population in the area helped minimize damage, notes Laurin.

Although some insurers are hearing from clients in the area–“The phones are ringing in claims,” says Audrey Bouchard, spokesperson at La Capitale Financial Group—the full extent of tornado damage isn’t clear yet.  “It’s a little too soon to give numbers,” she says.

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