KEY WEST, Fla. – Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency on Saturday as Hurricane Michelle moved toward the lower Florida Keys.
Key West and other points west were evacuated as a precaution. Whether Michelle will strike any of the Keys directly is difficult to predict because it's moving so slowly — three miles per hour. The storm itself, however, has winds of 140 mph, and parts of South Florida were anticipating winds of up to 40 mph as the storm passed nearby.
Michelle, which has already killed 12 people in Central America and Jamaica, was located at 19.6 north latitude and 84.1 degrees west longitude, or about 255 miles south-southwest of Havana at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Michelle is a Category 4 storm — as severe as hurricanes Andrew, which devastated southern Florida in 1992, and Hugo, which ravaged the southeastern United States in 1989.
The winds, as well as an expected six inches of rain, could hit the Keys on Sunday night or early Monday, according to National Hurricane Center meteorologist Krissy Williams.
"We will start to see our winds increase and we'll probably see rainfall continue throughout the weekend and even into Monday," Williams said.
Michelle was expected to pass through Cuba before reaching Florida by early Monday, with the center of the storm passing over the western half of the country. Cuban authorities evacuated 150,000 people from Havana.
Further west, 36,000 students and tourists were evacuated from low-lying areas. In the east, plans were made to evacuate tourists to government shelters if the need arose, according to state media.
Such evacuations are part of Cuba's civil defense program. The program, which is designed to protect citizens against foreign attack, is organized block by block. Cuba typically experiences fewer storm-related deaths than other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean because of the program.
Rescuers finally reached tens of thousands of people left homeless by floods in Honduras, where authorities reported that the storm had killed six people, left 14 more missing and forced 100,000 others to flee their homes in search of higher ground.
As flood waters began receding in the north, relief workers reached 100 villages cut off by the flooding in Gracias a Dios province near the Nicaraguan border.
In Nicaragua, officials put the storm's death toll at four. Twelve people remained missing and 15,000 people were forced from their homes.
In Jamaica, where two men died in floods and mudslides, helicopters filled with food and aid workers reached 13 villages cut off by flooding on the island's northeast coast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.