(Reuters) - British billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson will stay on his private Caribbean island, Necker, for the potentially devastating arrival of Hurricane Irma, the founder of the Virgin group VA.O of companies said on Tuesday.
Packing 185 mph (295 kph) winds, Hurricane Irma is due to reach the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday before grinding west across Haiti and Cuba then heading for the southern United States. [nL2N1LM0AG]
The storm is classified as a Category 5 hurricane, the highest level on the scale used by the National Hurricane Center to measure strength.
“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,” Branson said in a statement on the Virgin Group website. “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.”
Necker, which has a large main house and several small Balinese-style houses that can accommodate about 34 people in total, is rented to private groups for $80,000 a night, according to its website. The island has more than 100 staff and two infinity pools.
Branson said Necker boasts “really strong” buildings with hurricane blinds “that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well.” He said their main concern was for British Virgin Islanders, who should make themselves as prepared as possible.
“Whatever happens, keep inside, away from the ocean and away from flying debris,” Branson wrote.
Recalling seeing two powerful hurricanes, Earl and Otto, strike the British Virgin Islands in 2010, Branson said he had beheld nature “at its most ferocious.”
And he noted the damage done in Texas and Louisiana by Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore as the second-strongest Category 4 storm and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, killed an estimated 60 people and displaced more than 1 million more.
Harvey was a “tragic and costly reminder” that society is not doing enough to tackle climate change, Branson wrote. “If Irma is any indication, we must brace ourselves for more of these catastrophic weather events.”
Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman