Michelle Gildernew said: "As part of the preparatory work for the release of the strategic flood map, Rivers Agency has carried out analyses of the number of properties at risk of flooding from watercourses and the sea.

"Early analyses, which are subject to refinement when flood maps are published, indicate that there are approximately 63,000 properties identified as being in the natural flood plain across the North."

Heavy rainfall in August saw people rescued from cars in Co Antrim, the new Westlink Broadway underpass swamped and masses of sandbags filled in Co Down to contain the water.

Insurers have warned of the mounting cost of covering the damage to homeowners and a special compensation plan was put in place after earlier downpours.

An Association of British Insurers spokeswoman said: "Flooding is a big risk, it could mean the houses become uninsurable, but if that risk is managed insurers will take that into consideration.

"Flooding has become an issue because more and more people have been building houses to meet the demand."

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