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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Cyclone Shaheen aftermath: ‘Thousands’ of cars destroyed, ‘hundreds’ of homes ravaged
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IMMENSE DAMAGE: CMA launches electronic link for insured parties to file complaints over rejected claims


As a massive clean-up mounted by government agencies, aided by thousands of volunteers, picks up pace in North and South Al Batinah governorates in the wake of Cyclone Shaheen’s devastating sweep last week, the scale of the damage inflicted on private homes, small businesses and farm holdings is becoming increasingly evident.


A preliminary assessment of the damage, based on first-hand accounts shared by representatives of charity groups, insurance firms, loss adjustors and urban planning agencies, characterizes the physical damage unleashed by the tropical cyclone as “immense”.


“The scale of damage is truly devastating,” said an Omani insurance executive returning from a weekend of volunteer work along with a group of friends in flood-ravaged neighbourhoods of Al Suwaiq Wilayat.


“Virtually every home has lost everything that once filled the ground floors, parking lots and garden settings. The owners are now dealing with mucky silt and debris, which has destroyed parked cars, furniture, carpets, electrical appliances and electronics and other household effects. The scene is heart-breaking,” the executive, who did not wish to be identified, told the Observer.


Over the weekend, the Capital Market Authority (CMA), the regulator of the insurance sector in the Sultanate, published an extensive database of licensed insurance companies, along with contact particulars of their local representatives distributed across the country.


The Authority encouraged insured individuals and organisations that have suffered material damage inflicted by Cyclone Shaheen to submit their complaints via an electronic link (http://cma.gov.om/home/ecma) if their claims go unheeded.


DELUGE


The deluge sparked by Cyclone Shaheen during October 3 and 4, 2021 inundated potentially “thousands” of cars all across Barka, Al Musannah, Al Suwaiq, Al Khabourah and Saham wilayats, among other nearby neighbourhoods, according to preliminary estimates. A final tally is expected to take several weeks, but insurers are already bracing for sizable exposure in the form of claims from car owners.


Until the fine print in the unified motor insurance policy mandated by the CMA in 2008, one year after Cyclone Gonu struck Oman with devastating effect, is clarified, insurance experts are divided over whether the great majority of car-owners will receive some compensation for their wrecked vehicles.


On the one hand, there are experts who argue that coverage against Storm, Tempest and Flood (STF) is built into every motor insurance policy – whether Third Party Insured or Comprehensively Insured – in line with CMA directives. Unless where proven that the car owner was reckless or negligent in safeguarding their vehicle during the storm, such as by attempting to cross a flooded wadi, all insured vehicles are automatically covered for STF-related damage.


On the other side are those who insist that STF coverage is an add-on option in Third Party insurance policies that comes with an extra fee. As reported by the Observer earlier, large numbers of vehicle owners are understood to have switched to Third Party insurance coverage over the past two years to reduce their cost burden in the face of financial constraints posed by the economic downturn and exacerbated by the pandemic. Whether they are now entitled to insurance compensation is not a given, it is argued.


SALVAGEABLE CARS


From the insurance standpoint, the large majority of cars affected by the Shaheen floods is unlikely to be salvageable and may have to be written off.


“If the flooding was up to the carpet level in the car, then there’s a good chance it can be fully repaired, assuming it wasn’t running at the time. But if the level has reached the dashboard level, then given the dominant role of electronics in modern vehicles, such vehicles are beyond redemption,” one expert explained.


The outlook for homes damaged by the floodwaters is even worse, it is pointed out. An insurance executive contacted by the Observer noted: “The uptake of home insurance products has been dismal. Sadly, the hundreds of homeowners who have seen their household effects destroyed in the floods would have received RO 5,000 in compensation had they considered home insurance amounting to a few tens of Omani riyals per year.”


However, home or building owners who still have an outstanding housing loan can hope to get some compensation because most such loans have inbuilt insurance coverage, according to one expert.


“It is advisable for those with housing and property loans to approach their service providers to ascertain any possibility to obtain some coverage for flood-related damage to their dwellings,” he said.


Cyclone Gonu, described as the most destructive storm to hit Oman in modern times, is said to have caused losses totaling around RO 3 billion in 2007. However, insured losses amounted to only RO 245 million.


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