Friday 20 October 2017

'Eerie but beautiful' - Billionaire Richard Branson describes atmosphere on Caribbean island as locals wait for Hurricane Irma to hit

A man rides past a boarded up house as part of preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017, in the French overseas island of Guadeloupe.
A man rides past a boarded up house as part of preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017, in the French overseas island of Guadeloupe.
A picture taken on September 5, 2017 shows a view of the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, with the wind blowing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Ellie Cullen, Ryan Wilkinson and Tess De La Mare

Sir Richard Branson has described the atmosphere in the British Virgin Islands as "eerie but beautiful" as locals wait for the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane to hit.

The billionaire businessman is camped out on Necker, his own private island, with his staff as Hurricane Irma nears.

Writing on his blog, he said: "We have just experienced a night of howling wind and rain as Hurricane Irma edges ever closer towards us on Necker and the British Virgin Islands.

"The atmosphere is eerie but beautiful. Everyone is willing the eye of the storm to veer away from the (BVIs) in these last few hours."

A picture taken on September 5, 2017 shows a view of the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, with the wind blowing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
A picture taken on September 5, 2017 shows a view of the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, with the wind blowing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Employees of the Mercure Hotel fill sand bags on the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, as part of the preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 on the beach in Orient Bay, on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin.
Night view of the city of Cap-Haitien, in the north of Haiti, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, on September 5, 2017.
A couple watch the sunset from a seafront as hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 5, 2017.
Very long checkout lines at Costco as some people waited up to 8 hours to check in, shop and leave in preparation for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami.
Empty boxes of produce at Costco as customers purchased all the product on September 5, 2017 in Miami.
Costco ran out of water as people shop to prepare for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami.
A woman walks next to the Mapou River, in Shadaa neighborhood, in Cap-Haitien, in the north of Haiti, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017.
A picture taken on September 5, 2017 shows a view of the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, with the wind blowing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
A man rides past a boarded up house as part of preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017, in the French overseas island of Guadeloupe.
Men sail on Mapou Riverin Shadaa neighborhood, in Cap-Haitien, in the north of Haiti, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017.
People put boards on their windows as part of preparations for arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in Orient Bay, on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin.
An employee of the Mercure Hotel installs sand bags in a ground floor room on the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, as part of the preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Irma
An employee of the Mercure Hotel pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with sand bags on the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, as part of the preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Irma
A picture taken on September 5, 2017 in Grand Case, on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin, shows people on a street in front of a house thas is boarded up as part of the preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Men cover the windows of a auto parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man uses a cable to secure the roof of his home in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An employee restocks bottled water on bare shelves as customers look on at a Publix grocery store, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Surfside, Fla. Wielding the most powerful winds ever recorded for a storm in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Irma bore down Tuesday on the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean on a forecast path that could take it toward Florida over the weekend. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Joseph, Jr., right, 15, of St. Petersburg, bends down to carry sandbags to his family's vehicle at Lealman Community Park, in St. Petersburg, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, as residents prepare for Hurricane Irma. (Lara Cerri/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
People buy materials as they prepare for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People shop in a hardware store as they prepare for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Members of the Civil Defense prepare their gear ahead of Hurricane Irma, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

He said all those left on Necker were planning on camping out in the wine cellar of the great house when the storm hits.

"Knowing our wonderful team as I do, I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge," he said.

The category five hurricane is expected to hit the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda late on Wednesday before following a path along the Greater Antilles toward the US.

Experts at the National Hurricane Centre in the US have predicted 185mph winds and gusts of up to 200mph.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised Britons to follow the instructions of local authorities, including any evacuation orders.

A British naval ship has also been deployed to help deal with the aftermath of the storm.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said: "The thoughts of the British people are with all those affected by Hurricane Irma and Britain has already taken swift action to respond.

"We have deployed three UK aid humanitarian experts to the region to help co-ordinate the response and positioned a British naval ship with 40 Royal Marines, Army Engineers and vehicles, tents and facilities to purify water on board.

"Our staff are on stand-by, both in the UK and at post, to support any British people affected.

"We urge British nationals in the affected area to closely monitor and follow Foreign Office and local travel advice."

A spokesman for the Department for International Development said the first task of the ship would be to support British Overseas Territories in need.

Six islands in the Bahamas were being evacuated on Wednesday while officials in the Leeward Islands have reportedly cut power and urged residents to seek shelter in a statement that ended with "May God protect us all".

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was flying residents out of the six islands in the south in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country's history.

The hurricane, which is now at the the highest classification possible, could reach the Florida Keys over the weekend, leading authorities to declare a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico, which handles many transfer flights to the Caribbean, has also declared a state of emergency.

Antigua airport was closed on Wednesday and San Juan airport, the busiest in Puerto Rico, has cancelled about 40% of its flights in response to the hurricane.

As a result, thousands of travellers had their holiday plans thrown into chaos as airlines were forced to ground or divert flights.

British Airways sent an empty aircraft to bring customers back early - the full flight of 326 passengers touched down in the UK on Tuesday evening.

The US's National Hurricane Centre described Irma as "potentially catastrophic".

Taylor Trogdon, a scientist for the organisation, tweeted: "I am at a complete and utter loss for words looking at Irma's appearance on satellite imagery."

Irma comes hot on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastation and flooding in the states of Texas and Louisiana and left at least 66 people dead.

Press Association

Editors Choice

Also in World News