Dean's path was a stroke of luck for Mexico: It made landfall in a sparsely populated coastline that had already been evacuated, skirting most of the major tourist resorts. It weakened within hours to a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, and then became a Category 2.
The eye of the storm hit land near Majahual, a port popular with cruise liners, and it was racing across the Yucatan Peninsula toward a Tuesday afternoon entry into the Bay of Campeche, where the state oil company evacuated the oil rigs that produce most of Mexico's oil.
In the largely Mayan town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, at one point about 30 miles from the center of the storm, people stared from their porches at broken tree limbs and electrical cables crisscrossing the streets, some of which were flooded with ankle-deep water.
Tin roofing ripped from houses clunked hollowly as it bounced in the wind whistling through town.
"We began to feel the strong winds about 2 in the morning and you could hear that the trees were breaking and some tin roofs were coming off," said Miguel Colli, a 36-year-old store employee. "Everyone holed up in their houses. Thank God that the worst is over."
Cancun, well north of Dean's landfall, saw strong winds since the storm swirled over 75,000 square miles, about the size of Nebraska.
"The military is patrolling, the streets are empty, no one's allowed out of their hotel," reports CBS News Early Show weather forecaster Dave Price in Cancun.
About 20,000 tourists remain in the tourist resort, including newlyweds Stephanie and Matt Boxmeyer of Montana.
"We knew we couldn't get out. The airports were full. So we basically just hung out in the hotel, because they told us they had a shelter and everything was going to be fine. So we just wanted to stay so we didn't get stuck outside the shelter area," Matt Boxmeyer said on CBS News' The Early Show.
Theirs was a luxury hotel — before the storm.
"All the fixtures are taken off. Everything, chairs, are taken out. Lights are tied up. Chandeliers are tied up," Stephanie Boxmeyer told Price. "They taped off the windows" in their room. Her husband Matt "helped them tape it off."
"We had to move the furniture, the house and dresser against the sliding glass doors," Stephanie added.
Cancun's tourist strip is still marked with cranes used to repair the damage from 2005's Hurricane Wilma, which caused $3 billion in losses. Dean is expected to be even stronger than Wilma, which stalled over Cancun and pummeled it for a day.
With the storm still screaming, there were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or major damage, Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez told Mexico's Televisa network, though officials had not been able to survey the area. In the Quintana Roo state capital, Chetumal, the storm downed trees and sent sheets of metal flying through the air.
At landfall, Dean had sustained winds near 165 mph and gusts that reached 200 mph — faster than the takeoff speed of many passenger jets. It was moving west-northwest near 20 mph across the Yucatan Peninsula.
At 11 a.m. EDT, it was moving west at 20 mph, with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph, and had been downgraded to Category 2.
The hurricane killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean, picked up strength after brushing Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and became a monstrous Category 5 hurricane Monday. Sections of the Jamaican capital and the island's east suffered severe damage in the storm, and the country postponed Aug. 27 general elections.
Only three Category 5 storms, capable of catastrophic damage, have hit the U.S. since 1935. Dean is the first Category 5 to make landfall in the Atlantic region since Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992.
Thousands of tourists fled the beaches of the Mayan Riviera. Though expected to escape a direct hit, Cancun still could face destructive winds.
"There's a lot of noisy wind now with this creature all over us," state civil protection official Francisco de la Cruz said from his hurricane-proof offices in Chetumal.