Entrepreneurs

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson survived Hurricane Irma holed up in his concrete wine cellar

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group
Photo by Paul Morigi
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson survived Hurricane Irma barreling over his private islands by hunkering down in his wine cellar.

"All of the team who stayed on Necker and Moskito during the hurricane are safe and well. We took shelter from the strongest hurricane ever inside the concrete cellar on Necker and very, very fortunately it held firm," says Branson in a recent blog post.

But Branson marveled at the aftermath. "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. Outside of the bunker, bathroom and bedroom doors and windows have flown 40 feet away," he says via his blog.

The founder of the Virgin Group bought Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and he makes a habit of staying put through hurricanes. In the past 30 years, there have been three and Branson says he has stayed on Necker Island each time.

"It may sound strange, but I consider hurricanes one of the wonders of the natural world," explains Branson. "Two powerful hurricanes, Earl and Otto, hit the BVI in 2010 and caused extensive damage. I beheld nature at its most ferocious. The power of the sea breaking over the cliff tops, the eerie hush when you are in the eye of the hurricane and then the roar of the winds, the lightning and the rain."

Guests left the resort island and others postponed their trips, but a skeleton crew stayed on Necker Island. Thanks to Branson's fortune (he's currently worth $5 billion, according to Forbes), he has a cement wine cellar that served as bunker for himself and his staff.

"All of us slept together in two rooms. I haven't had a sleepover quite like it since I was a kid," says Branson in post the night before the hurricane hit. "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.

Though communications were down, Branson used a satellite phone to dictate updates.

Not all in the path of Hurricane Irma were able to brave the storm. The Category 5 storm killed four people on the Caribbean island of St. Martin and one on the island of Barbuda, and caused devastating destruction. Irma, which has been down-graded to a still dangerous Category 4, is now heading for South Florida. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has warned Irma will "devastate" the parts of the United States it hits.

Despite his decision to ride out the hurricane, Branson urged others to take caution and go to hurricane shelters. Branson also asked residents to check in on Facebook to let people know they are safe. Virgin also donated to the British Red Cross and asked others to donate to the Red Cross through the Virgin Money Giving platform, which is waiving processing fees.

"I know we are fortunate here on Necker and Moskito," says Branson. (Moskito is another British Virgin Island that Branson owns.) "I know we will all band together and rebuild the islands to become stronger and even more wonderful than they were before."

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