Billionaire Richard Branson hunkers down as Irma hits private island

Members of Branson's team await the arrival of Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma.
Members of Branson's team await the arrival of Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma.PHOTO: VIRGIN.COM

LONDON (AFP) - British billionaire Richard Branson said he would be hunkering down in his concrete wine cellar to face Hurricane Irma as it hurtles closer to his private island of Necker in the British Virgin Islands.

"We have just experienced a night of howling wind and rain as Hurricane Irma edges closer towards us," Branson wrote in a blog post.

"All of us slept together in two rooms. I haven't had a sleepover quite like it since I was a kid," he added.

The billionaire and his staff are currently on his private island of Necker, in the British Virgin Islands, east of Puerto Rico.

Guests staying in the luxury resort have left or postponed their stay for safety reasons, he explained in a previous blog post.

Branson said that they would all "retreat to a concrete wine cellar under the Great House" as the full force of the hurricane got closer.

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

 

Branson said he was confident his buildings "should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well", adding that "our main concern is with the local people of the British Virgin Islands".

"It may sound strange, but I consider hurricanes one of the wonders of the natural world," he said, remembering two previous hurricanes in 2010 when he "beheld nature at its most ferocious".

"Man-made climate change is a key factor in the increasing intensity of these hurricanes," he wrote.

Hurricane Irma - a rare Category Five storm - slammed into French Caribbean islands on Wednesday bringing gusting winds of up to 294kmh, weather experts said.

Authorities in the British Virgin Islands have advised people to find safe shelter and have emergency supplies kit packed with supplies for at least three days.

Thousands of tourists were also impacted, as airlines were forced to ground or divert flights.