Sir Richard Branson — one of the world’s most recognizable business magnates, investors and philanthropists — has also now become the face and force behind the reconstruction of the British Virgin Islands, which were virtually erased from the map last week after Hurricane Irma struck.
In an exclusive interview with News is my Business, Branson — who with his jeans, grey T-shirt and leather sandals blended into the crowd gathered at a hotel lobby in Carolina Monday night — said with much confidence that the BVI “will be rebuilt, and in a year or so, it will be a proud country again.”
Branson, who has been coordinating recovery and aid efforts from Puerto Rico, has been working directly with BVI officials and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to mobilize help, quickly.
“Your governor here has been really helpful. I’ve spoken to him two or three times today. If we need the National Guard from here to help over there, he’s willing to supply them. If we need food, he’s willing to supply it. It’s been fantastic,” said Branson, who was in Puerto Rico for only a day.
“I came out for one day because we have no communications, no Wi-Fi, no telephones. So I’m here just to try to get the outside world to help,” Branson said.
And it has.
“It’s been truly heartwarming to witness the global outpouring of support for the communities across the Caribbean that have been hit hardest by Hurricane Irma. We’ve received hundreds of emails from people across the world who share our love of the BVI and its wonderful people and who are willing to make their resources available to help in whichever way they can,” he said in his latest blog entry.
Puerto Rico, he said, has been “fantastic. You’ve got your own problems, but your governor has just been…anytime I ring him, straightaway he answers the phone and puts me on to people who are trying to help. I’m really grateful and appreciative of that.”
Branson, who rode out the hurricane in his private Necker Island — which was completely pummeled — said Hurricane Irma’s devastation spreads throughout the entire BVI archipelago.
“It’s absolutely devastating for the BVI because almost every resort has been written off. The whole of the BVI has been written off. The hurricane didn’t spare almost any building,” he told this media outlet. “Necker has been badly damaged, but we’ll rebuild and make it better.”
Branson’s Virgin Group and his philanthropic organizations —Virgin Unite, Unite BVI and Virgin Limited Edition — are working with local organizations to identify the ongoing needs of affected individuals, families and communities impacted by the disaster.
While in San Juan Monday, Branson met with BVI leaders, some of whom — including his son Sam — will head back to the islands today to support people on the ground.
“We will be handing out canned foods, water, medical supplies, sanitary supplies and other essentials to the surrounding islands. We have people on the ground in Virgin Gorda, where we are focusing lots of our efforts,” Branson said in his latest blog post.
He will also be taking back satellite equipment to begin communicating from the islands, he told NIMB.
Branson, who has been deeply involved in the topic of climate change, said “Hurricane Irma would have been a Category 7 if it was possible.”
“In most countries, there is no argument about the effects of climate change. There’s a few idiots in America that still…99 percent of scientists are very clear. Every year, carbon puts a blanket around the earth and heats it up, which means it heats the oceans up, which means we’re going to get stronger hurricanes,” said Branson, who will be in New York next week to participate in “Climate Week NYC.”
“Although I would like to be in the BVI all the time, I’m going there and I’ll use what just happened to stress this,” he said. “The entire country is unable to function properly, with tens of thousands of people having lost their homes and livelihoods.”
Compounding the devastation left behind, Branson said other problems have arisen after Hurricane Irma ripped the BVI’s main prison in Tortola “to pieces.”
“All the prisoners have escaped and there has been an element of lootings and problems. That’s the most unsettling part, which is why so many people have fled the BVI,” he said, confirming some British troops have arrived at the BVI, “but we may still need the National Guard from Puerto Rico.”
“We’ll see how the night goes tonight [Monday],” he said, speaking candidly, at the same time obliging to people who came up to him to shake his hand or take a picture, while munching on a bit of local “chinchorreo” food courtesy of the hotel.
Editor’s Note: The first shipment of donated goods in about 10 cargo containers will leave Puerto Rico today bound for Tortola’s Port Purcell, transported free of charge by Marine Express, a subsidiary of Ferries del Caribe, said Tomás Dardet, representative of BVI’s tourism office in Puerto Rico. The delivery is scheduled to arrive Thursday.