Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group who said he would ride out Hurricane Irma from his 30ha private island in the Caribbean, has emerged from his fortified wine cellar unscathed.
"All of the team who stayed on Necker and Moskito during the hurricane are safe and well," Branson said in a blog post yesterday, which he explained was transcribed with a satellite phone after the storm brought down all lines of communication.
"We took shelter from the strongest hurricane ever inside the concrete cellar on Necker and very, very fortunately it held firm. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the disaster elsewhere in the [British Virgin Islands], Caribbean and beyond," he said.
Branson had said earlier his compound was built with reinforced hurricane blinds designed to withstand high winds. But that wasn't the case for the surrounding area or the rest of Necker Island, his property for over 40 years.
"I have never seen anything like this hurricane. Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated. We are still assessing the damage, but whole houses and trees have disappeared," he said.
"Outside of the bunker, bathroom and bedroom doors and windows have flown 40 feet away."
True to form, Branson used his platform to call for donations and support.
"Virgin Unite has made a donation to the British Red Cross to support the hurricane relief efforts, and we are awaiting more information about how else we can best support. I would urge everyone to donate to the British Red Cross through Virgin Money Giving (who are waiving their fees in support of the appeal) to help local communities," he said, with a message to readers in the British Virgin Islands to check in on Facebook to alert family members about their safety.
Branson is the 324th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of about US$5 billion ($6.8b), according to Forbes, which notes that he bought Necker Island for US$180,000.
On Thursday, before Irma hit, Branson posted pictures of people smiling and bedded down in a room filled with furniture, backpacks and makeshift beds.
"All of us slept together in two rooms," Branson wrote. "I haven't had a sleepover quite like it since I was a kid. Strangely, it's a privilege to experience what is turning into possibly the strongest storm ever with such a great group of young people.
"We were listening to the parrots in their boxes in the next room chattering away. Watching the tortoises congregating together, as if they sense what is coming our way."
A few hours before Irma's impact, Branson wrote that he planned to retreat with his team to his concrete wine cellar below "the Great House". As one does.
"Knowing our wonderful team as I do, I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge," he wrote on his blog.