Get ahead of disaster damage on your property

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 15, 2020

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Just in the past few months, various parts of South Africa have again experienced huge veld and forest fires, flash floods, hailstorms, tornados and even earth tremors that have underlined the message that home owners everywhere need to be better prepared for natural disasters.

“These destructive events can cause extensive damage to homes in their path, including smashed windows, sinkholes and torn-off roofs as well as total structural collapse, and not all owners will have enough insurance to cover this damage. Those whose homes are not bonded are quite likely in fact to have no building insurance at all,” says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group.

“Besides, it can take weeks and even months to settle claims, and with the rate and scale of natural disasters rising due to climate change, insurance companies are expected to have increasingly difficulty in meeting the massive claims, so home owners need to start doing more themselves to prevent or mitigate the damage to their own properties.”

He says they should consider the following as a start:

  • Cut back trees in your yard that could cause damage during a wind or hail storm. Heavy branches falling on to a roof can result in collapse, water damage and even injuries to the people below. Tall trees struck by lightning can also cause fires, as can branches falling on to power lines.
  • Keep your yard clear. Don’t allow the grass to grow long or leaves and other debris to accumulate around your home if you live in an area that is vulnerable to veld or forest fires. Co-operate with neighbours and ensure that there is no wind when burning any firebreaks, and always have a hose or water-pump handy to wet your roof and as much of your property as possible in the event of a fire.
  • Use sandbags. If you have any warning of heavy rainfall and possible flooding, or live in an area where this occurs regularly, fill some sandbags and stack them to prevent water from entering your home. You can also dig a ditch to divert the storm run-off to an area where it will be naturally absorbed or flow away downhill.
  • Always keep your gutters and downpipes clear. Accumulated leaves or other debris in these can cause rainwater to backup and overflow into roof and wall cavities, where it can cause damp and even structural problems long after a storm has passed.
  • Reinforce doors and windows. If you live in an area that is prone to strong winds, you should consider installing storm-shutters to prevent windows and doors from being torn off or broken by flying objects. You should also check regularly to see that your roof is very securely bolted or tied down. These measures will help protect people as well as property even during a sudden tornado like that which hit parts of the Eastern Cape recently.
  • Secure or store any outside furniture. If you know there is a big thunderstorm with high winds coming, anything that is on a veranda or patio should be tied down or stored away, and especially loose items like sports equipment, umbrellas and braais. You should also check that toys, tools and other small items are not left outside, and preferably park your car under cover where it cannot be damaged by heavy hail such as that which occurred in KZN recently.
  • Know where to turn off the water, electricity and gas supplies to your home or appliances. Your local authority can ask you to do this before or after a disaster to lower the risk of flooding or fire, and you will also need to do it if you have to evacuate your home for any reason.

In addition, Kotzé says, home owners and their families should always have an emergency plan in place and at least one emergency grab-bag. “There may not be much you can do to prevent a disaster, but you can ensure that everyone in your family has information about how to protect themselves and your pets in an emergency, the safest ways to get out of the area and the location of the nearest emergency shelters or meet-up points, in case you get separated.

“You may also want to prepare a ‘survival pack’ for each person that contains such items as bottled water, a spare phone and power bank, a torch, a penknife, a light jacket, some cash, first-aid items or spare chronic medications and copies of ID documents or passports.”

According to Statista, the global economic cost of natural disasters over the past five years is estimated at more than $392m, while the insured cost of those events is estimated at just US$142m – which means that less than half the total cost was covered by insurance. The single most costly natural disaster in the past 20 years was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which cost the insurance industry about US$83m. In SA, some of the most costly natural disasters for the insurance industry in recent times were the Knysna fires and Cape storms of 2017 (between R3bn and R4bn) and the KZN floods in 2019 (around R1bn).


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