Coming ashore with top sustained winds of 100 mph, Dean's center hit the tourism and fishing town of Tecolutla shortly after civil defense workers loaded the last evacuees onto army trucks and headed to inland shelters.
There was no escaping the wide storm's hurricane-force winds, which lashed at a 60-mile stretch of the coast in Veracruz state.
At 10 p.m. local time, Dean was about 95 miles northwest of Mexico City and was heading westward about 21 mph. The Hurricane Center downgraded Dean to a tropical depression and predicted it would dissipate on Thursday over the mountains of central Mexico.
During the day Wednesday, Dean's hurricane strength sent thousands scrambling and had others hoping for the best as they rode out the storm.
"You can practically feel the winds, they're so strong," said Maria del Pilar Garcia, as Dean made landfall 40 miles north of the hotel she manages in Tuxpan. "I hope this passes quickly and the rivers don't overflow."
Sounds of crashing metal prompted farmer Moises Aguilar to take a dangerous risk in Monte Gordo, 20 miles down the coast from Tecolutla. At the height of the storm, he dashed outside his house, about 300 yards from the sea, and struggled against the wind as his neighbor's roof ripped apart.
"We've closed the curtains because we don't want to see what is going on out there," Aguilar said, his voice nearly drowned out by another crash. "I think that's more metal roofing from my garage."
Mexico had suspended offshore oil production and shut down its only nuclear power plant as tens of thousands headed for higher ground.
More than 14,000 workers were evacuated from off oil facilities in advance of the storm.
The state oil company said there is no known damage to any of its production facilities on shore or in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dean struck land Wednesday as a Category 2 storm after regaining some of the force it unleashed on the Yucatan. Its first strike on the peninsula came Tuesday as a Category 5 tempest with 165 mph winds was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall.
Officials say there are no reports of deaths in Mexico directly caused by Dean, which killed 20 people in its earlier sweep through the Caribbean. The toll rose Wednesday when Haitian officials said seven more storm deaths had been reported in remote areas.