Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder Virgin Group, is riding out Hurricane Irma in a wine cellar along with his team on Necker Island, a private Caribbean island he purchased decades ago.
The eye of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that is packing winds of more than 185 miles per hour, has prompted U.S. officials to close airports and issue mandatory evacuations as forecasters predict the storm will hit Puerto Rico, Florida and other states. The “superstorm” Irma is already being called the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history and has caused major damage in the eastern Caribbean, including St. Kitts and Nevis, the Virgin Islands, and Hispaniola (shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti).
But Branson, whose Necker island is located in the British Virgin Islands, an area that the storm barreled through Wednesday, decided to stay as he has in the past. In a blog posted published Tuesday he explained his reasoning and said guests of Necker Island have evacuated.
On Necker Island we have constructed really strong buildings (with hurricane blinds) that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well, though with a Category 5 hurricane almost nothing can withstand it. We had some lovely guests staying on Necker Island who have cut their trip short for safety reasons, and another group of guests have also postponed. I will be on Necker alongside our team, as I have been on the three times we have had hurricanes over the past 30 years.
In a tweet early Wednesday morning, Branson provided an update and said he and his team would be retreat to the concrete wine cellar under the “Great House.”
“Knowing our wonderful team as I do, I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge,” Branson wrote in a blog post that was published early Wednesday.
Branson said he expected the storm to hit in about four hours, or about 10 am ET.
A screenshot below of Hurricane Irma’s path taken at 2:30 p.m., shows that the eye of the storm traveled over Necker Island, which is pinpointed on the map in a purple star.
Branson described the atmosphere before the brute force of the storm hit as “eerie but beautiful.” “Everyone is willing the eye of the storm to veer away from the BVI in these last few hours. As I wrote yesterday, our main concern is safety, for everyone here and for all the people in the BVI and in the path of the hurricane,” Branson wrote in his blog.
Branson, an ardent environmentalist, also used the opportunity to talk about climate change.
“The damage caused by Harvey all over Texas is a tragic and costly reminder that our climate is changing and that we are not doing enough to tackle this enormous challenge,” Branson wrote on Tuesday. “If Irma is any indication, we must brace ourselves for more of these catastrophic weather events. How much cheaper and smarter to support the Paris Agreement and move to clean energy?”