Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, continues to survey the devastation that Hurricane Irma brought to the Caribbean, particularly to the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Branson rode out the storm in the wine cellar of his home on his private Caribbean island, Necker Island, and is now walking amongst the wreckage. While in the United States the greatest fear was for south Florida and the Florida Keys, the Caribbean took the same hit with fierce winds and walls of water, and Branson said the Caribbean is in worse shape than Florida.
The Florida Keys are dealing with their own damage, and Jacqui Sands, the manager of the Hemingway House in Key West, felt compelled to stay at the historic site to mind the building and care for the 55 polydactyl cats who live there. The Hemingway House was built in 1851 of French limestone and sits on the highest point in Key West. Sands says that there was less damage than she thought, especially considering the high winds.
“We’re told Key West was in the eye wall — the strongest part of the hurricane — for 2 hours. Water has begun to recede as Irma moves north.”
Sands says she considers herself and the other Hemingway House employees lucky that all is intact and all of the Hemingway cats are accounted for. However, Richard Branson and the residents and tourists in the Virgin Islands are spending their days digging out.
Sir Richard Branson says the Caribbean wasn’t as lucky as Key West and that the terrain resembles a war zone. Branson says that throughout the course of his life, he has never experienced a hurricane like Hurricane Irma. Branson said that the hurricane damage in the Caribbean reminds him of the post-WWII bombing in Europe. Thirty-four people lost their lives throughout the islands in the storm.
Sir Richard Branson says that Hurricane Irma mostly passed over his island, Necker Island, but the British and American governments need to do something to help in the current crisis for the BVI and the USVI.
“The region needs a ‘Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan’ for the BVI and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction and long-term revitalization of the local economy. 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.”
Branson knows that the devastation goes beyond the BVI, as the U.S. Virgin Islands also took a battering. A joint effort between the U.S. and U.K. will be necessary if the islands are going to recover. The economy of all the islands is largely based on tourism, and without a recovery effort, the island economies will fail, according to Branson.
Bar owner Stacey Alvarado says St. John has been hit hard and “people there are roaming like zombies.”
“They don’t know what to do,” she said. “The island was wiped out. It’s like the walking dead down there.”
Branson says that despite the damage, the citizens are pitching in to help. He toured Virgin Gorda to see what the rest of the BVI looked like.
“The boats are piled up like matchsticks in the harbor. Huge cargo ships were thrown out of the water and into rocks. Resorts have been decimated. The houses have their roofs blown off; even some churches where people sheltered have lost roofs. But the whole British Virgin Islands community is rallying round.”
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So far, President Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for Florida, but nothing as of yet for the Caribbean. However, Branson is hopeful. Theresa May of Great Britain has loaned $42 million in relief funds to the islands. But Richard Branson’s views on the causes of the hurricanes are not in line with Trump’s. Branson is stressing that if we don’t address climate change, these mega-storms will keep happening.
“Man-made climate change is contributing to increasingly strong hurricanes causing unprecedented damage. The whole world should be scrambling to get on top of the climate change issue before it’s too late – for this generation, let alone the generations to come.”
Do you think that Sir Richard Branson is right and the United States and United Kingdom governments should help rebuild the Caribbean? What will prevent the next storm from destroying the islands again?
[Featured Image by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images]