* Tropical storm expected to become hurricane on Monday
* Northwestward path over Caribbean could threaten Florida
* Harvey weakens to depression, still producing rains
MIAMI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Irene whipped the
northern Leeward Islands with rain and squalls on Sunday as it
barreled west on a track through the Caribbean that looked set
to threaten Florida.
Irene, the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane
season, was expected to pass Puerto Rico's southern coast early
on Monday and then strengthen into a hurricane as it approached
the Dominican Republic.
It would be the first hurricane of the so far busy, but to
date not destructive, 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.
At 8 a.m. (noon GMT), Irene was packing winds of 50 miles
per hour (85 kph) and was located about 35 miles (55 km) west
northwest of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, moving
into the northeastern Caribbean sea, the U.S.-based National
Hurricane Center said.
Residents of Antigua reported rains, strong squalls and
surf as the storm passed.
Dominican Republic authorities issued a hurricane warning
for the southern coast of the tourism-dependent Caribbean
nation, while Puerto Rico declared a hurricane watch.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for most of the
northeastern Caribbean islands, and for Haiti.
"Irene will pass near Puerto Rico tonight or early Monday
and approach the Dominican Republic on Monday ... some
strengthening is forecast during the next day or so and Irene
could become a hurricane on Monday," the Miami-based hurricane
Computer forecast models showed Irene taking a
northwestward path over Haiti and eastern and central Cuba and
then heading toward the Florida peninsula.
Depending on its eventual path and possible turns, Irene
might still pose a threat to U.S. oil and gas installations in
the Gulf of Mexico, but forecasters say it is too early to
predict with certitude.
Tropical Storm Harvey, which made landfall on the coast of
Belize in Central America on Saturday, weakened earlier on
Sunday to a tropical depression.
But the NHC said it was still producing heavy rains over
Guatemala and southeastern Mexico. It was expected to dissipate
later on Sunday or on Monday.
Mudslides and flooding could affect agricultural output in
Central America, but this year's coffee and sugar harvests are
(Reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami; additional reporting
by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Gustavo Palencia in Honduras and
Mike McDonald in Guatemala City; editing by Eric Beech)