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2021 atmospheric rivers cost $675M in insurance losses, were Canada’s 8th worst natural disaster

Insurance industry representative calls for better flood mapping to help improve decision-making
Last year’s series of atmospheric rivers that caused widespread destruction across southern British Columbia caused $675 million in insurance loses, according to an insurance representative. (File photo courtesy of Emcon)

An expert from the insurance industry is calling on senior government to improve flood mapping and ultimately decision-making about whether to rebuild communities affected by floods.

“For the country, we do need to have a better sense of knowing our risk and I know flood maps are fairly outdated in this province as well as others,” said Greg Moy, manager of government relations for the pacific region with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, during a panel discussion at the 2022 Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention held in Whistler last week. Moy added that the insurance industry as well as other stakeholders see improved flooding mapping as a priority.

“I know the province through this budget … was able to put some money aside to ensure that we have got the latest intel so that communities such as Merritt … know whether or not we should be rebuilding in certain areas or we should be having another conversation about that.”

A trio of atmospheric rivers caused widespread, often catastrophic flooding in parts of Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and the Southern Interior between Nov. 13 and Dec. 2, 2021.

RELATED: VIDEO: Flooding, mudslide hampering travel through southern Vancouver Island

Moy told delegates and panellists — which included Mayor Linda Brown of Merritt, Mayor Henry Braun of Abbotsford and Mayor Spencer Coyne of Princeton — that insured losses from those atmospheric rivers totalled $675 million. That figure made the flooding during the fall of 2021 the eighth most expensive natural disaster in Canada in terms of insurance payouts. The most expensive was the wildfires that destroyed swaths of Fort McMurray in 2016. They caused just under $4 billion in damages, according to a graphic presented during his presentation.

Moy said eight of the costliest disasters in history have happened since 2011 with the western provinces getting the worst of it. Some 86 per cent of all insured losses from natural disasters — some $4 billion — happened in Western Canada. Surveying other natural disasters in 2021, a series of windstorms in Western Canada (mainly in B.C.) caused $134 million in damages, the Lytton wildfire caused $102 million in damages and the White Rock Lake wildfire caused $77 million in damages.

These figures also point to one of Moy’s main observations. Whereas wildfires were the historically dominant natural disasters of the past, flooding events have now replaced wildfires, he said.

Moy said his organization — which represents Canada’s private insurance business — continues to work with senior levels of government for the creation of a national flood insurance program. Overland flood insurance for residences still represents a relatively new insurance product, he said. “That is why we are seeing in communities like Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Merritt and Princeton, the coverage level isn’t necessarily at the highest,” he said, adding that the industry needs to do a better job of making customers aware of those programs.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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