KEY WEST, Fla. -- The Florida Keys were ordered evacuated Sunday as meteorologists warned the chain of islands likely would be brushed by Hurricane Michelle. Rain spread into the state as the eye of the hurricane blasted down on the south coast of Cuba.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a hurricane warning for the Florida Keys, projecting winds of 75 mph or more could reach the area Sunday and remain today. Gusts -- up to 52 mph in Sobrero Key -- and heavy surf were pounding the area's beaches.
Bennie Sweeney, who owns a Key West T-shirt shop, opened his store but only to prepare for the storm. Sweeney said he was going to hang a picture of a rabbi on the window.
"We went to the synagogue, we prayed. We came here just to make sure nothing happens," Sweeney said.
Monroe County officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for the Keys. Public schools will be closed today.
The evacuation orders came a day after Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.
"It appears that the storm has veered to the east, thankfully," Bush said. "It's still a very powerful storm. Clearly there's going to be some impact."
Heavy bands of rain with tropical storm force winds, which range from 39-to-73 mph, were spreading across the Florida Straits and the Keys, and were moving toward the southeast coast of Florida.
The center of Michelle should pass over Cuba by midnight Sunday and head into the eastern Florida Straits, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.