Chinese insurers are expected to pay 3.52 billion yuan ($489 million) in damages to companies and people in central and eastern China as a result of the worst snowfall in almost half a century, the nation's insurance regulator said on Friday.
"By Friday, insurance firms had paid 350 million yuan, with most of this going to Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Anhui provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region," said Wu Dingfu, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.
Power firms, which are worst hit by the snowfall, are expected to receive up to 1 billion yuan, accounting for 30 percent of all claims.
"To make payments quicker and smoother, major insurers such as PICC, China Life and Ping An, have all launched emergency plans and are offering more flexible treatment," said Wu.
For instance, insurance companies are paying out to pig farmers whose fertile sows have frozen to death, although they do not normally compensate for such losses. The firms have also pledged to pay out 1,000 yuan ($139) to farmers who have not paid the 12-yuan premium.
"We're offering on-the-spot payments for losses below 3,000 yuan," said Jiang Caishi, PICC business manager.
Insurance firms have launched round-the-clock phone services to answer emergency calls from people in the 14 provinces and regions.
"Moreover, we are planning to set up a special fund of 100 million to 200 million yuan to help farmers and businesses badly hit by the snowfall," said Wu.
China Life, the country's largest life insurer, donated 10 million yuan to the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Friday, while Taikang Life Insurance offered 3 million yuan.
Though a large area has been affected by the bad weather, average losses have been comparatively low, according to industry insiders.
"About 90 percent of claims have been filed for damaged vehicles," said a manager at China Pacific Insurance.
But Sunshine Property and Casualty Insurance Vice-President Li Ke said many cases may remain unreported because heavy snow has disrupted communications in many areas.
In a message to President Hu Jintao, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf expressed his country's "sentiments of sympathy and total solidarity with the government and people of China.
"Our thoughts and sincere good wishes are with our Chinese friends who will undoubtedly overcome the effects of this natural calamity," he said.
Former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk donated $50,000 to China's disaster-relief efforts, according to the Foreign Ministry on Friday. Sihanouk also expressed his condolences to the Chinese people in a letter to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.