Cyclone Debbie insurance bill may pass $1b

Cyclone Debbie could cost the insurance industry more than $1 billion, Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Rob Whelan has warned.

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About 7,500 claims worth hundreds of millions of dollars had been lodged by Queensland residents by Friday lunchtime, Mr Whelan said.

But he expects that figure to rise given the severe flooding in the northern NSW city of Lismore, with Suncorp, Insurance Australia Group and RACQ Insurance particularly exposed.

“People are only just slowly returning to their properties to get an assessment of the level of damage so we expect that to escalate quite quickly,” Mr Whelan said.

Mr Whelan said it was possible that claims could pass $1 billion because of the flooding in Lismore.

“The township is heavily flooded now, which hasn’t happened for a long time,” he said.

Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s said on Friday that net claims against insurers from cyclone Debbie are likely to be manageable and below the $1.3 billion stemming from cyclone Yasi in 2011.

S&P also said it expected insurers would manage claim impacts well due to strong capital positions and adequate reinsurance cover.

Cyclone Debbie hit Queensland’s Whitsunday coast as a category four storm on Tuesday, and wreaked havoc on towns including Proserpine, Bowen and Mackay.

The storm travelled south as a tropical low, leading to serious flooding and mass evacuations in south-east Queensland and as far south as northern NSW – where there are fears that people have died.

Mr Whelan said the damage from cyclone Debbie is the worst since Cyclone Oswald in 2014, when storms and flooding affected large parts of Queensland and NSW – causing insurance losses of almost $1.2 billion.

Pakistani Taliban claims bombing at mosque

A bomb apparently targeting a mosque in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Parachinar has killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

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The explosion in a remote area bordering Afghanistan came as people gathered for Friday prayers near the women’s entrance of a Shiite mosque in the central bazaar.

It was the latest in a series of attacks across Sunni-majority Pakistan this year.

The local political agent, Ikramullah Khan, said the death toll had reached 22, with 70 wounded.

Sajid Hussain, a parliamentarian from Parachinar, said gunfire preceded the blast, which he described as a suicide attack.

The city is in an area with a large Shia population.

“The attack took place in a busy area and a women’s mosque appears to be the target,” Hussain said.

The banned Islamist militant group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, often referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, said the blast was part of its operation Ghazi, named after a radical Islamist leader who was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2007.

That attack was claimed by the TTP and a branch of another militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami.

Authorities said a military rescue helicopter had been sent to the scene.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned Friday’s attack and said the government would keep up efforts to “eliminate the menace of terrorism”.

In February, more than 80 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan that was claimed by Islamic State.

In January, at least 21 people were killed when an explosion hit a vegetable market in Parachinar, capital of the Kurram tribal region, where Pakistani security forces have battled militant groups for years.

N. Korean suspects sent home with coffin

Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country’s leader were believed to be returning home with the coffin of the victim after Malaysia agreed to a swap deal.

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Photographs from Japan’s Kyodo news agency show Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk Il, a staff member of North Korea’s state airline were on a flight to Beijing on Thursday night.

The pictures match those released by the Malaysian police.

The coffin carrying the body of Kim Jong Nam was believed to have been on the same flight.

Malaysian media reported a third North Korean, Ri Ji U, who had been hiding with them at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, was also allowed to go home.

The three men and the coffin were expected to be transferred to a flight to Pyongyang.

Malaysian authorities released Kim’s body on Thursday in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn-out diplomatic spat.

Kim Jong Nam was killed in Kuala Lumpur International airport on February 13 in a bizarre assassination using VX nerve agent.

An Indonesian and a Vietnamese woman have been charged killing him but they are regarded by South Korea and the US as pawns in an operation carried out by North Korea.

Malaysian police had named eight North Koreans they wanted to question, including the three believed to have been allowed to leave Malaysia.

Angered by the probe, Pyongyang slapped a travel ban on Malaysians leaving North Korea, trapping three diplomats and six family members, including four children.

Following “very sensitive” negotiations, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the country had agreed to release the body in exchange for the nine Malaysians in Pyongyang.

Najib’s statement did not mention the safe passage given to the North Koreans.

It has denied any role in the Kim Jong Nam’s killing and denounced the investigation as flawed and politically motivated.

Later on Friday, China’s foreign ministry said Kim Jong Nam’s body had been returned to North Korea.

“Relevant” North Korean citizens had also returned to North Korea, ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing, without giving details.

Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said the three North Koreans were allowed to leave the country after investigators obtained their statements.

He said “we have obtained whatever we wanted from them” and were “satisfied” with their statements.

Khalid said police were still seeking four other North Koreans who left Malaysia on February 13, the day Kim Jong Nam died.

Beenleigh business saves day for commuter

As floodwaters rose on the banks of the Albert River in Beenleigh, south of Brisbane, a local business has at least brightened the day for one person.

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A dozen cars spent most of the day submerged in the brown tide that engulfed most of Alamein Street and the Beenleigh train station, as water from the flooding rains of ex-tropical cyclone Debbie raised the Albert River to dangerous levels.

However, local tyre shop owner Barry Berg has guaranteed himself a customer for life after he and staff rescued a car from ruin.

Recognising one of the cars in the train station car park on Friday morning as that of a regular customer, Mr Berg made a quick phone call to get permission to smash a window and then he and his staff pulled the car clear of the water.

“We had to pull it out twice, the water was coming up that quickly,” Mr Berg told AAP.

“We got here at 7.30am and the cars were under by about 8.30am.”

Mr Berg said the swift waters had even caught out some local police, with their patrol car falling victim to the water in the 15 minutes they had left it unattended.

Mr Berg’s actions weren’t the only act of community spirit in Beenleigh.

Queensland MP Shannon Fentiman, whose home at Waterford was under threat of flood damage, was spotted at a local cafe buying a cake for a little girl who was spending her birthday in a nearby evacuation centre.

It was a dose of reality on an unreal day for people living along the Albert and Logan Rivers.

Dozens of people in various suburbs came out to just watch the flood water, with only a handful of people risking entering the murky, debris filled sludge.

In Beenleigh itself, only the wail of fire alarms from the inundated Market Place shopping centre and the presence of emergency services vehicles in the town’s central district gave any hint of the unfolding disaster.

Beenleigh’s train station looks set for a lengthy closure after it went under with the entire system needing to be given an all-clear after the waters recede before it can be re-opened.

Several homes and businesses in Beenleigh will also have a costly clean up ahead when the flood recedes – as will the iconic Yatala Pie Shop just down the motorway, which was one of several businesses in that region to be breached by the waters.

Bell out to make history in Ashes return

Ian Bell admits he is eyeing an England return and has targeted making Ashes history.

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Bell, who has 118 Test caps, has not played for his country since failing to score in the second Test against Pakistan in November 2015, just a few months after winning his fifth Ashes series.

England, under new captain Joe Root, face Australia in Brisbane in November in the first Test of the 2017-18 tour.

Ian Botham and Wilfred Rhodes are the only other Englishmen to have won fives Ashes series and Bell wants to top them if he can earn a recall.

“I’ve been lucky enough to win five Ashes, no one has ever won six so there’s always a carrot for me if I was lucky enough to get into that squad,” he said.

“There’s no doubt, on an individual level, to be part of a squad which wins six would be something pretty special.

“You always think about it. I still have ambitions to play for England. I enjoyed playing in the Big Bash which was as close to playing international cricket without playing for England.”

Bell scored three centuries in the home 2013 Ashes series before England slumped to a 5-0 defeat in Australia a few months later. He conceded his 18 months away from the international scene has helped him.

“Initially having been left out I didn’t know what to do going forward. Having a bit of time away from it I realise I really have missed it,” said the 34-year-old, who has scored 7727 Test runs.

“I’d been on the road a long time and I look back on whether I should have taken a break after the Ashes and had six months away from it. I don’t know if that would have been the right move or not.

“I didn’t want to take an easy option, I wanted to fight my way through. I won’t be the only one with ambitions to get into that England team.”