Dean set to hit Mexico again

After slamming onto Mexico's Caribbean coast as a monstrous category five storm, Dean was downgraded to a category one storm as it was set to pound Mexico's offshore oil platforms with heavy rains and battering waves.

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Despite the rare intensity the storm packed when it hit land on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula over the past day — ripping trees out of the ground and causing floods — there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.

Authorities in neighbouring Belize said the small Central American country did suffer some damage to buildings, but did not report any deaths.

Dean has already killed at least nine people during its earlier rampage across the Caribbean.

Near miss

The worst of the storm hit lightly populated areas, sparing popular tourist resorts and causing no major structural damage in cities near its point of entry into Mexico.

The hurricane lost much of its power as it swirled across the Yucatan Peninsula but forecasters said it could regain fuel from the warm Gulf waters as it headed toward central Mexico for a second landfall.

President Felipe Calderon arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula to survey the damage, after expressing concern over the fate of isolated and impoverished Mayan communities along its path and pledging that relief efforts would focus on those areas.

The monster storm slammed into a sparsely populated area near Puerto Bravo, about 280 kilometres south of the tourist resort of Cancun, packing sustained winds of 270 kilometres per hour, with higher gusts.

That made it the first Atlantic hurricane to make landfall at the topmost category five on the Saffir-Simpson scale since Andrew rampaged in south Florida in 1992.

Mass evacuations

Tens of thousands of tourists had fled Cancun and other popular resorts ahead of the storm, but those who stayed behind enjoyed a sunny day Tuesday, though most steered clear of the still stormy seas.

In Chetumal, a city of 450,000 people close to the landfall area, electricity was down, uprooted trees blocked roads and officials said floodwaters were as high as two meters (six-and-a-half feet) in a low-lying part of town.

"I was very scared, the wind made a horrible sound as it hit the corrugated metal roof," said Rosa Ramirez, 16, who spent the night huddled in a small house with 14 family members. At one stage the family also feared they had lost 10 sheep who had run away, but the animals were later rounded up unharmed.

In the nearby village of Bacala, hundreds of dead or agonising birds littered the ground.

At 0600 GMT (1400 AEST) Wednesday, Dean's centre was about 250 kilometres east-northeast of Veracruz and 370 kilometres east-southeast of Tuxpan, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

"Some intensification is possible before landfall," the centre said, adding it was expected to be "very near the coast of central Mexico" Wednesday where 2.5 meter tidal surges and up to 25 centimetres of rain were likely.

Its maximum sustained winds were down to 130 kilometres per hour, making it at category one hurricane, the lowest intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Before it hit Mexico, Hurricane Dean was blamed for four deaths in Haiti, two in the Dominican Republic, two in Martinique and one in Jamaica.