Harvey pounds Central America, as new storm moves in

DVBP969 4 XO 0549 HND /AFP-VE64 CentrAm-Mexico-weather-storm lead Harvey pounds Central America, as new storm moves in ATTENTION - UPDATES with status downgrade /// TEGUCIGALPA, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - Tropical Depression Harvey moved into southern Mexico Sunday, lashing the region with strong winds and torrential rain and threatening to trigger devastating mudslides across the mountainous terrain. "These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially over higher terrain," the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said. Although weaker and downgraded from its former tropical storm status, Harvey still represented a weather event to reckon with, experts said. The eye of the storm made landfall in Belize near Dangriga on Saturday and moved farther inland and into northern Guatemala and eastern Mexico. On Sunday morning, it was barreling westward at a speed of 24 kilometers (15 miles) per hour, with maximum sustained winds near 55 kilometers (35 miles) per hour, the center said. Located about 65 kilometers (50 miles) eastsoutheast of Villahermosa, Mexico, the storm was forecast to continue moving inland. By the time it dissipates on Monday, Harvey was expected to produce total rain accumulations of eight to 15 centimeters (three to six inches) across Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, with up to 25 centimeters in isolated areas. In Belize and Guatemala, authorities warned people about the risks of heavy rains and a tropical wave along the Caribbean coast, but there were no reports of damage or casualties. "The phenomenon did not cause loss of life or infrastructure damage," said a top emergency services official, Juan Jose Reyes. Stormy weather killed hundreds of people last year in Central America, a region highly vulnerable to weather disaster due to its rugged terrain and poor infrastructure. Over 50,000 people have died over the past four decades from natural disasters that have also caused billions of dollars in damages in the region, which the United Nations considers among the world's most vulnerable to climate change. In Guatemala alone, heavy rains left 174 people dead and over $1 billion in damages last year, while landslides in Costa Rica killed 24 people and caused $330 million in damage. As Harvey pounded Central America, Tropical Storm Irene plowed ahead past the Caribbean's Leeward Islands and was expected to strike the Dominican Republic as a hurricane early next week, US forecasters said. The ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was packing winds of almost 50 miles (85 kilometers) per hour and was located just 10 miles (15 kilometers) northeast of Guadeloupe, the NHC said. On the forecast track, Irene was expected to pass near or over Puerto Rico and Hispaniola island -- shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- early next week before possibly hitting the Florida Keys islands. "Some strengthening is forecast over the next 48 hours and Irene could become a hurricane on Monday," warned the Miami-based center. Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Curacao, Antigua and Barbuda have issued tropical storm warnings. burs/oh/sst/mk/gk AFP 211018 GMT AUG 11