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SERVICES 
Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 16:02 GMT
Insurance firms prepare for claims
Damage caused by high winds in Morpeth, Northumberland
The high winds have caused damage to many buildings
Insurance companies in the UK have been preparing themselves for a surge in claims following the damage caused by the severe gales of the past few days.

At the moment the industry says it is too early to say what the eventual cost will be.

Many companies have still to hear from policyholders who are still discovering the full extent of the damage.

But despite the appalling weather, companies say the storms have caused nowhere near the level of damage which followed last winter's floods.

Situation unclear

Mike Wallwork at Royal & Sun Alliance told BBC News Online it was "far too early to say" what the cost of the damage would be.

Flood in Cambridge, 2001
Last year's floods led to claims totalling 1.3bn
He said about 1,000 policyholders had contacted the firm so far, but that number was expected to rise as people discovered damage to their homes.

The view was echoed by Jenny Chapman at Norwich Union, who said the overall situation was still unclear.

She said many people had been unable to register claims as they were still without electricity or a telephone line following the storms.

Gill Murphy at Direct Line told BBC News Online the storm damage was unlikely to lead to higher insurance costs.

"The storms are not likely to result an increase in premiums taken in isolation," she said.

Floods

At the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Malcolm Tarling said the bad weather was the sort of event that insurance companies prepared for each year when setting premiums.

And the companies said the costs will not be anywhere near as bad as those seen following the floods of last winter.

Widespread flooding in the UK last autumn and winter caused misery for thousands of people, and led to massive insurance claims.

The ABI says the costs of the floods reached 1.3bn, of which 850m stemmed from claims on damage to domestic properties.

See also:

29 Jan 02 | UK
Gales clean-up begins
04 Jul 01 | Business
Household insurance washout
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