Sir Richard Branson has described first-hand the devastation that Hurricane Irma has left behind after it raged through his privately owned Necker Island in the Caribbean.
The billionaire Virgin boss is in Puerto Rico and has shared shocking images and videos on social media of flattened buildings, trees, and rising swamps as his family take in the full impact of the natural disaster on their home.
Record-breaking Irma swept across Necker and the British Virgin Islands before reaching Florida, and in an emotional message, Branson said his home had been “destroyed” and had felt the “full force” of the huge storm
Writing from Puerto Rico, he said: “As you can see from the photos, much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged.
“We felt the full force of the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean.
“But we are very fortunate to have a strong cellar built into Necker’s Great House and were very lucky all of our teams who stayed on Island during the storm are safe and well.”
“The UK government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma – both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending.
“The region needs a “Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan” for the BVI and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction and long-term revitalisation of the local economy.”
Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, according to The National Hurricane Centre in the USA, with winds as strong as 295 KM/H.
The governor of Florida declared a State of Emergency for the entire state and enforced a mandatory evacuation order for people to leave the area in advance of the arrival of Irma.
Branson’s son, Sam Branson, also appealed for people to stay calm in the Virgin Islands in a series of videos shared on Instagram, and said some had been fighting each other for supplies. He also said 250 US Marines had arrived to help locals.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, his father vowed to do whatever he can to support and assist the local community in “this extremely testing time”.
Speaking to Virgin colleagues via a satellite phone that was “just about working”, Branson said: “It is a traumatic time here in the British Virgin Islands.”
“Hurricane Irma is continuing a path of destruction that brought the eye of the storm to Necker Island, Moskito Island and the whole surrounding area.”
He added: “I have never seen anything like this hurricane.
“Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated. We are still assessing the damage, but whole houses and trees have disappeared.
(Click the image below to see the full scale of devastation caused by Irma)
“Outside of the bunker, bathroom and bedroom doors and windows have flown 40 feet away.”
Branson bought the island for $180,000 when he was a 28-year-old music executive and it was uninhabited. He spent three years and almost $10 million turning it into a private island retreat.
The storm was upgraded from a Category Two to One, and is currently belting out 170km/h winds over the city of Tampa, Florida.