Richard Branson refuses to leave the British Virgin Islands as the 185-mph winds of Hurricane Irma approaches on Wednesday, and instead, the billionaire is seeking shelter in his wine cellar with about a dozen Virgin Group staff members.
“We are expecting to get the full force of the hurricane in around five hours’ time, when we will retreat to a concrete wine cellar under the Great House,” Branson wrote in a September 6 blog post on the Virgin website. Branson is currently on Necker Island in the Carribean, which he purchased in 1979 for $180,000, and where he says he experienced three hurricanes over the last 30 years. He remained on the island through those storms, and he plans to do the same for Hurricane Irma.
“On Necker Island we have constructed really strong buildings (with hurricane blinds) that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well, though with a Category 5 hurricane almost nothing can withstand it,” Branson wrote. “We had some lovely guests staying on Necker Island who have cut their trip short for safety reasons, and another group of guests have also postponed.”
“The atmosphere is eerie but beautiful,” he continued. “Everyone is willing the eye of the storm to veer away from the BVI in these last few hours. As I wrote yesterday, our main concern is safety, for everyone here and for all the people in the BVI and in the path of the hurricane.”
Branson posted pictures on his Instagram and Twitter accounts showing him and his staff staying in a room stacked with makeshift beds. Other images showed them playing dice on a dining table as they waited out the “howling wind and rain” from the ferocious hurricane.
“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,” Branson said.
Hurricane Irma has the potential to be one of the most powerful and intense Atlantic storms in history. Once it passes through the Virgin Islands, Irma is expected to hit Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, and make landfall in Florida by Sunday. Irma is listed as a Category 5 hurricane which the National Hurricane Center says will leave areas “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
As Branson and his team wait out the storm, the billionaire is aware that staying in an enclosed place filled with alcohol will probably mean there won’t be much left when they finally emerge.
“Knowing our wonderful team as I do,” Branson wrote, “I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge.”