NBC News' Kerry Sanders called in this report from his cell phone in Chetumal, Mexico.
When Hurricane Dean roared in last night and we knew that this was a Category 5 storm, I was actually surprised. At first I thought, "OK, this needs to be stronger. I've been in Category 5 hurricanes, and this is not that strong."
Yes, it was powerful. Yes, trees were being toppled, power lines were coming down and power poles were snapping — but ultimately, it did not feel strong enough to be a Category 5, the strongest possible hurricane classification.
|VIDEO: Hurricane Dean hits Mexico|
So as we tried to calculate, and now we know, it looks like the eye came ashore north of Chetumal and it weakened quickly after making landfall. That is good news because north of Chetumal is primarily a huge national preserve known as the Mayan zone, an uninhabited jungle. That was good news because those 165 mile an hour winds had little to destroy as they came in. The area is mostly just trees and other vegetation.
The folks who live in that national preserve had mostly been evacuated. The government sent in vans and buses to get the residents, most of whom are indigenous. Many of these locals do not even speak Spanish, but rather a native Mayan language, but the authorities were nevertheless able to get most of them out.
The authorities are just now beginning to assess the damage, but so far it looks like the worst fears have not been realized. That will be remarkably good news when you consider the size of Hurricane Dean.
|SLIDESHOW: Dealing with Dean|
Winds still blowing, but could have been worse
Meantime, the wind is still blowing very strong here — gusts up to at least 125 miles an hour — and rain squalls continue. Portions of corrugated tin roofs that have been ripped off are banging down the street, awnings have been torn down and business signs have been toppled. But the wind is likely to let up probably in the next two hours.
Most of the folks in Chetumal are remaining in their homes. But the police and the military are out now beginning to assess the damage.
And we did see someone on the street earlier with a rake trying to clear the debris from one of the sewer grates so that the water collecting there — it was up to his waist — could go down the drain. It looks like he was successful because the water level has begun to lower.
Still, most people are still inside their homes. Looking out the window now, I can see a family sitting at the window and there are some smiles on their faces. I think they are make the same assessment as most people here in Chetumal — that this storm could have been a lot worse.