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Hurricane Dean Bears Down on Caribbean, Lesser Antilles

U.S. weather forecasters say hurricane Dean has strengthened into a Category Two storm as it spins rapidly toward islands in the eastern Caribbean with wind speeds of 160 kilometers per hour.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami upgraded the storm Thursday. It said the center of the hurricane should be near the Lesser Antilles islands by early Friday.

The Lesser Antilles islands stretch from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, east of Puerto Rico, south to Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, and west to the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao, off Venezuela's northern coast.

The center predicted hurricane conditions for Thursday and Friday on the islands of Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe and its dependencies.

It said tropical storm conditions are possible for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Dean is the first hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic storm season.

Forecasters warn that heavy rain produced by Dean could trigger life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in some areas.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center says Erin has been downgraded to a tropical depression after making landfall early Thursday along the U.S. southern Gulf coast in Texas.

Erin came ashore about 40 kilometers northeast of the city of Corpus Christi. It is expected to continue weakening as it moves farther inland.

Forecasters say heavy rain from Erin could cause flooding in some areas already saturated by previous storms.

Parts of Texas have been deluged by several weeks of torrential rain, with massive flooding in some communities.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.