Sir Richard Branson shares images of devastation on private Necker Island
- British billionaire and businessman Richard Branson shares images of devastation on Necker Island
- Businessman appeals for aid to British Virgin Islands
- Hurricane Irma showing signs of weakening, could be downgraded to tropical storm today
- Florida continues to be battered by 100mph winds and torrential rain
- House-to-house searches will begin in Florida Keys on Monday
British billionaire and businessman Richard Branson has shared a video and photographs of the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma on his private Necker Island.
The businessman is appealing for aid for the devastated British Virgin Islands after the hurricane's devastation.
Much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged. But British Virgin Islands Hurricane #Irma story is not about Necker - it is about the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. @virginunite is coordinating aid to local BVI families & communities affected - please donate to help http://www.virgin.com/unite/bvi-community-support-appeal
Branson hunkered down with his team in the wine cellar of his home on his private island as it suffered a direct hit from the Category 5 Hurricane Irma.
"As you can see from the photos, much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged," Sir Richard wrote from Puerto Rico, where he said he is mobilising aid efforts for the British Virgin Islands and wider Caribbean.
"Communications remain mostly down in the BVI after Hurricane Irma.
"fter sharing these updates and talking to various governments, aid agencies and media, we will be heading straight back to the BVI to continue helping the recovery effort on the ground," he continued.
"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."
Branson writes about how tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods.
"We have spent the past two days visiting team members who live on Virgin Gorda and as many people as possible, distributing aid, water and supplies. We have seen first-hand just how ferocious and unforgiving this storm was," Branson wrote.
"There are worrying reports of civil unrest spreading – I urge everybody to stay safe, remain calm and support each other. Help is on its way; we are in contact with governments across the region and the UK government. I’m grateful for the amazing support of the Armed Forces that are on the ground now.
"The BVI is such a wonderfully peaceful part of the world, but a catastrophic event like this would put a strain on any community. That said, I’ve already seen some wonderful acts of human kindness over the last few days. Everyone is coming together to help and support one another."
Branson appealed for financial help, while saying that 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."
- Read more: A weakened Hurricane Irma makes second landfall in Florida
- Read more: Islands counting the cost of trail of destruction
He wrote; "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.
"This will have to include building resilience against what is likely to be a higher intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, as the effects of climate change continue to grow.
"Over the coming weeks, we’ll have to assess exactly what is needed. It is clear to me creating jobs is paramount – there will be a huge amount of rebuilding to be done and people will need work to help rebuild their lives as well as their homes."
Finally, he appealed; "As a Group, we are mobilising support for the British Red Cross, bringing in supplies through Virgin Atlantic (my son Sam has also flown into Barbados, bringing emergency supplies to the BVI via boat).
"We are using our foundation Virgin Unite to coordinate raising money for longer-term reconstruction projects. Virgin Unite is also working with Unite BVI and Virgin Limited Edition to support the local BVI communities. They will be working with local organisations to identify the ongoing needs of affected individuals, families and communities affected by this disaster.
"We will support the mid to long term efforts on the ground and help provide support as those affected recover from the disaster. Please donate what you can.
"I’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support sent to those across the region and to myself. I’ve lived in the BVI for a long time and I know this wonderful part of the world and its amazing people will bounce back stronger than ever. Thank you for your continuing support, it means the world to us."
Hurricane Irma is showing signs of weakening and could be downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday.
The National Hurricane Centre said the storm "should continue to lose strength and fall below hurricane intensity" during the day, as it continues its path northwards.
But forecasters have warned the threat to life still remains, as Florida continues to be battered by 100mph winds and torrential rain.
Powerful storm surges could also cause more devastating flooding across the state.
Overnight, Irma was downgraded to a category 2 storm, but continued to wreak havoc along the west coast.
Massive 10ft (3.1m) storm surges overwhelmed roads and buildings, and cut off Florida Keys from the mainland.
Residents and holidaymakers were ordered to stay indoors until the storm had passed, with many Brits left holed up in apartments or hotel rooms.
Matt and Zoe Caveney, from Liverpool, were forced to spend much of their honeymoon confined to their hotel room at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Mr Caveney, 28, who married Zoe, 22, on August 5, said: "I've never seen rain or wind like it in my life.
"With Orlando being in central Florida we aren't getting it as bad as the coastal towns, but there are very strong winds and heavy rain battering down. We can hear the wind battering the door and trees outside.
"All the parks have been closed as of Saturday 7pm local time and won't be opening again until Tuesday morning at the earliest.
"We are currently on curfew and have been told to stay in our hotel rooms. We were advised to purchase enough food and water in to keep us going through the weekend.
"We're pretty calm about the whole thing - if a little apprehensive. It's all frustrating with it being our honeymoon and obviously everyone back home is concerned too."
Andrew Trickett, from Shropshire, is on holiday in Orlando with his wife Sandy.
The 56-year-old said: "The wind is picking up here - it's at 68mph and is going to get worse.
"There's a curfew for the next 24 hours which is advisable as it would be very dangerous to be out there.
"It's been scary but not as bad as they were forecasting earlier this week. We are lucky compared to people in the south west of Florida who've had to evacuate."
James Stuart, who is on holiday in Orlando with his mum and brother, said they were "holed up helplessly" and that the weather was "unbelievable".
The 37-year-old, who plays deaf football for Everton FC, said: "The wind is so powerful. The trees are moving so violently and it's pouring down."
House-to-house searches will begin in Florida Keys on Monday, looking for people who need help and assessing the damage.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said they are "prepared for the worst" and suspects there may be fatalities.
So far, Irma has claimed at least 24 lives in its deadly path across the Atlantic, including five in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda, and left thousands of people homeless.
Boris Johnson has pledged to be there "in the long term" for British people whose Caribbean homes were ripped apart by the storm.
Brushing aside critics, the Foreign Secretary said there had been an "unprecedented" relief effort from the UK and that he had "no doubt" Britain would meet the challenges ahead.
Mr Johnson said, in addition to the £32 million already set aside following the disaster, the Government would be matching public donations to the Red Cross appeal.
Returning from the latest in a series of emergency Cobra meetings, Mr Johnson said: "This is just the beginning.
"A terrible thing has happened to British overseas territories.
"These are British people and we are here for the long term and we will come through with a recovery plan working with our partners in the region.
"We will come through with a recovery plan for those islands and make sure they get back on their feet again.
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