Hurricane Michelle is galloping over the Bahamas after pummeling vast stretches of Cuba with fierce winds and torrential rains. Michelle has been downgraded to a minimal, Category 1 hurricane and could soon become a tropical storm.

Authorities in the Bahamas reported winds approaching 100 kilometers an hour. A wind strength they say their residents are well equipped to withstand.

Cuba was not so lucky. Sunday, Michelle plowed into the island with winds exceeding 200 kilometers an hour. It was the strongest storm to strike the island in more than 50 years.

Michelle cut a diagonal path across central Cuba, its eye passing to the east of Havana. The hurricane brought storm surges and massive flooding; the full extent of the damage may not be known for several days.

Cuban authorities evacuated more than 600,000 people from exposed regions in advance of the storm, including more than 150,000 from Havana.

Florida was spared a direct hit. A mandatory evacuation was ordered in the Florida Keys and other parts of south Florida, but the preparations proved to be unnecessary. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas is offering no apologies for the measures, saying it is better to be safe than sorry.

"We have got to be prepared at all times for these sorts of occurrences," he said. "I am sure we will be hearing over the course of the day [about] what happened in places like Cuba and other areas. And I am sure you will realize how lucky, in fact, we were that the system missed us. It is a good reminder that we always have to be prepared."

Michelle, an unusual late hurricane season storm, formed in the western Caribbean last week. It caused massive flooding that is blamed for at least 12 deaths in parts of Central America and Jamaica.