Richard Branson’s party island got rocked by a decidedly unexpected visitor last week.
After building a head-full of Category 5 steam, Hurricane Irma descended on Necker Island on Sept. 7, trashing the place — and reducing much of the resort to ruins — before moving on to Florida.
Fortunately, Branson, who was on the island with family and staff at the time, was able to ride out the storm in a way befitting of billionaire entrepreneurs: in the wine cellar.
"We took shelter from the strongest hurricane ever inside the concrete cellar on Necker and very, very fortunately it held firm," Branson wrote in a blog.
When Branson emerged from that sturdy cellar, the island bore little resemblance to the ultra-exclusive party paradise that has lured the likes of Barack Obama and Kate Moss to its shimmering shores.
In a series of weekend tweets, Branson cataloged the carnage.
"Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated," Branson tells TMZ. "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. I'm speaking these words from a satellite phone that is just about working, but all other communications is down."
Branson's son, Sam, also chimed in on Instagram about the ultimate party crasher.
"Glad to say that all humans on Necker are OK although a lot of buildings destroyed and main house in uninhabitable."
Glad to say that all humans on Necker are ok although a lot of buildings destroyed 😞 Very concerned for our friends and everyone on the neighbouring islands and people in its path. Please don't take this hurricane lightly if it is heading your way. If your building is not very solid, do find somewhere safe! Homes can be rebuilt but lives can't. Nature warning us again of the impact of #climatechange We must all do more to combat this. #nomoresubsidiesforfossilfuelandlivestockindustries #hurricaneirma #bvi #neckerisland #besafe #beprepared
While Irma went easy on Necker Island's human population — the death toll in the Caribbean stands at 38, while the U.S. has seen at least 12 storm-related deaths — the same can't be said for the island's collection of imported animals.
The 70-acre island's dizzying collection of exotic animals had always been a selling point. Branson keeps lemurs on Necker Island, along with hundreds of flamingos, red-foot tortoises and even Anegada iguanas — a species that’s teetering on the brink of extinction.
Much like animals in zoos and aquariums in the U.S., they didn't have the option to get out of town. Or off the island. Or even to hunker down in the wine cellar. Instead, Necker staff, like their zoo counterparts, tried to get as many animals as they could secured and safe before the hurricane struck. As TMZ reports, parrots and tortoises were caged and stored inside buildings.
But those buildings turned out to be a decidedly less vault-like than Branson's wine cellar. Many of them were smashed in the storm and even razed to the ground — leaving Branson's staff to comb through the rubble.
Sadly, while many of the animals survived, others remain missing.
An island with rock 'n' roll roots
When the British magnate bought Necker Island in the late 1970s — he swooped in after a string of British Virgin Islands went up for sale — he gave rock stars who signed with his record label the run of the place.
Since then, the island has taken a slightly more inclusive turn with Branson opening the beach-riven isle to non-rockers, transforming the place into a luxury getaway for anyone with a small fortune to spare.
Booking the entire island costs a tidy $80,000 per night. Not to worry though. Necker Island accommodates 34 people. So just get your friends on board — when you run out of them, try relatives and maybe even strangers on the internet — and the rate is a much more reasonable $2,353 per person per night.
It will be awhile before the island welcomes any new visitors, but there are many animals that never check out of this island resort.
And right now — with so many animals unaccounted for on the island — they could use a hero.
Even a knight in shining suntan lotion will do. Like a Sir Richard Branson.