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