Tornadoes… A new normal for South Africans?

For many South Africans, tornadoes are a relatively unknown phenomenon, yet they are not an entirely new occurrence. The South African Weather Service has recorded more than 17 tornadoes over the past 10 years. The worst in recent history was in Harrismith in November 1998, which destroyed over 700 houses!

According to experts, tornadoes can form anywhere that thunderstorms occur. In South Africa, the areas most frequently affected are Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape. The three tornadoes observed over the past few weeks are a stark reminder of how devastating tornadoes can be.

While we can’t do anything to stop a tornado, there are things we can do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and to minimise the disruption to our lives and economic loss.

Personal Safety: What to do in the event of a tornado?

  • Do not try to outrun tornadoes, they are faster than you and can change direction at any time.
  • If you are driving, stop and get out of your car, and take cover in a low-lying area or ditch.
  • If you are outside, get inside a building if possible and take shelter in a small space like a bathroom or under a heavy desk. In all cases, get as close to the ground as possible. If you are in a double story or high-rise building, move to the ground floor or basement.
  • Cover your head and neck and watch out for flying debris.
  • Large buildings with wide roof spans are particularly prone to damage by tornadoes.  These structures are usually supported only by outside walls and can therefore easily collapse. If possible, try to get out of these structures and into a smaller building or space.

The Insurance Process – Devastation to restoration:

Insurance plays a pivotal role in getting life back to normal and selecting the right insurance provider to cover your buildings can make all the difference. This is even more important in a sectional title development where unit owners share the economic responsibility for the complex.

CIA Building Insurance has been providing specialised building insurance cover for 20 years. Our all-risk buildings insurance policies automatically include tornado and storm damage, and include additional benefits for costs of emergency accommodation, security guards, and lost rentals.

We have dealt with a number of tornado claims and know exactly how to deal with the traumatic and devastating effects that accompany these events. Keeping our insurance promise is at the heart of everything we do at CIA, and the example below provides an excellent overview of our insurance process following a catastrophe.

The video below is an actual event and claim that happened during October 2017 causing more than R10 million’s worth of damage at one complex alone.

This 120-unit complex in Roodepoort sustained damage to 66 units after a tornado ripped through the area overturning cars, shattering windows, tearing off roofs, and collapsing walls. In large parts of the roof, all the roof tiles were lifted and blown off leaving the occupants literally without a roof over their heads.

So, how did we respond?

Safety First:

Our first priority was ensuring the safety of residents at the complex. A structural engineer was immediately appointed to assess the safety of the units. The unsafe and unhabitable units were evacuated, and emergency accommodation was arranged for the respective unit owners.

Emergency repair quotations were obtained for repairs to the boundary wall, entrance gates, and electric fence, which had been badly damaged, while 24-hour security officers were deployed to maintain security until these repairs were completed.

Repair, Rebuild, and Replace:

With safety and security in place, our next priority was to minimise further damage and complete repairs as soon as possible. We appointed an expert team of quantity surveyors, loss adjusters, and contractors who, together with our dedicated claims handlers, ensured that the reinstatement of the damaged units was completed in record time. A good example of how we made this happen was including a requirement in the repair tender that contractors had to work over weekends.

Loss of Rental Income and Alternative Accommodation:

For unit owners who suffered a loss of rental income due to their units not being habitable, we covered the loss of rent. Unit owners who occupied their units themselves were paid out the equivalent value of similar accommodation.

Cover was also provided for the storage of furniture and accommodation of pets.

Insurance, tornado, CIA Building Insurance

It is vitally important to ensure that your building or unit is insured for the total reconstruction cost and NOT market value, as market value does not include fees such as debris removal, demolition charges, and professional fees etc. Underinsurance will result in average being applied to your claim. The above complex was fortunately correctly insured on this basis and no average was applicable.


Weather patterns are changing and will continue to do so. As South Africans, we should be aware of and brace ourselves for the onslaught of more tornadoes in the time to come. Make sure you know how to remain safe should you ever get caught in a tornado – your personal and family safety should always come first.

Get peace of mind through insuring your home and business with a reputable insurance provider. Should a tornado ever strike, rest assured, you will soon have a roof over your head again.

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Tornadoes… A New Normal for South Africans?
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Tornadoes… A New Normal for South Africans?
Weather patterns will continue to change. As South Africans, we should be prepared for the onslaught of more tornadoes and get building insurance.
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Douglas Haig

Douglas Haig is the Managing Director at CIA Building Insurance Specialists, an award-winning building insurance underwriter headquartered in Johannesburg and with branches across South Africa. He has been with the company since January 2017 and has a wealth of information and experience, which has seen the business going from strength to strength.

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