The Yucatán's good fortune seemed to affirm the confidence of Mayan villagers, most of whom refused to leave their thatched-roof shacks before the storm. Some wielded machetes as they met evacuation crews sent to about 100 villages near Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Many villagers fled to secret caves that according to Mayan lore are immune to hurricanes and floods.
Dean made landfall early Tuesday in Costa Maya, a cruise-ship port near Chetumal, a city close to the Belize border that suffered some of the worst street flooding and building damage in the area. Officials at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm registered the third-lowest pressure at landfall — an indicator of storm intensity — ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, trailing only Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and an unnamed storm in 1935.
CHETUMAL, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico's Caribbean coast on Tuesday, flooding streets, toppling trees in beach resorts and blowing the roofs off houses, but there were no immediate reports of deaths.
Water surged down a main street at thigh level in Chetumal, a city of about 150,000 people near where Dean made landfall. Broken trees and street lights lay strewn around.
After killing 11 people on its rampage through the Caribbean, Dean was a Category 5 hurricane -- the strongest possible -- when it tore into Mexico, landing around the cruise ship port of Costa Maya, near the border with Belize.
The storm then lost power over land and was downgraded to a Category 2, although forecasters warned that roaring winds and rains were still a threat as it moved toward Mexican oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday evening.
Tourist resorts like Playa del Carmen and Cancun, devastated by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, appeared to escape major damage as Dean moved quickly across the Yucatan Peninsula.
"No human losses have been reported until now," President Felipe Calderon said.
Litter and leaves were scattered on the streets in Playa del Carmen, where tired tourists emerged at first light after an uncomfortable night in a hotel converted to a shelter for 400 people.
"I didn't sleep, I had backache," said Italian tourist Massimiani Luca, 31. "There were nine of us in this room, eight in that room," he said.
The government of Quintana Roo state, which took the hit from Dean head on, said it was unaware of any deaths.
Tens of thousands of tourists fled Cancun over the weekend before Dean crashed into the area, famous for white beaches, crystal clear waters and Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza.
Chetumal was left without power when the hurricane's sustained winds of 165 miles per hour (265 kph) and gusts of up to 200 mph (320 kph) knocked over dozens of power poles and trees. The aluminum roofs of some houses were blown off.
Dean swiped Jamaica at the weekend with fierce winds and pelting rain, killing two people and taking the storm death toll to eleven. Haiti was worst hit with four people dead.
Dean is likely to cost insurers up to $1.5 billion with the majority of claims coming from damage caused in Jamaica, disaster-modeling firm Risk Management Solution said.
The storm is likely to continue weakening over land but should still be a hurricane when it heads out into the oil-producing Campeche Sound in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Mexico's state oil company has closed and evacuated 407 oil and gas wells, meaning lost production of 2.65 million barrels of crude per day.
Heavy rain drenched Belize, a former British colony that is home to some 250,000 people and a famous barrier reef. Sugar canes fields were flattened in the north of the country.
In Belize City, Chyla Gill was evacuated with her family from her wooden house and sent to a concrete school shelter.
"We packed for a week because after the hurricane there is always flooding and we can't go back to our houses," she said. "We live near a swamp and the crocodiles come out."
Category 5 hurricanes are rare but there were four in 2005, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans. The higher number of powerful storms in recent years has reinforced research that suggests global warming may increase the strength of tropical cyclones.
Hurricane Wilma two years ago washed away whole beaches in Mexico, killing seven people and causing $2.6 billion in damages.
Poor local residents with badly built homes are often the worst hit by hurricanes.
Calderon was cutting short a visit to Canada, where he met U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to oversee the emergency effort.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer in Playa del Carmen, Mica Rosenberg in Belize and Ed Stoddard in Cozumel)