I am writing from Puerto Rico, where I have travelled in order to further mobilise aid efforts and rebuilding plans for the British Virgin Islands and wider Caribbean. Communications remain mostly down in the BVI after Hurricane Irma. After sharing these updates and talking to various governments, aid agencies and media, we will be heading straight back to the BVI to continue helping the recovery effort on the ground.
As you can see from the photos, much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged. We felt the full force of the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean. But we are very fortunate to have a strong cellar built into Necker’s Great House and were very lucky all of our teams who stayed on Island during the storm are safe and well.
This story is about the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. We have spent the past two days visiting team members who live on Virgin Gorda and as many people as possible, distributing aid, water and supplies. We have seen first-hand just how ferocious and unforgiving this storm was.
There are worrying reports of civil unrest spreading – I urge everybody to stay safe, remain calm and support each other. Help is on its way; we are in contact with governments across the region and the UK government. I’m grateful for the amazing support of the Armed Forces that are on the ground now. The BVI is such a wonderfully peaceful part of the world, but a catastrophic event like this would put a strain on any community. That said, I’ve already seen some wonderful acts of human kindness over the last few days. Everyone is coming together to help and support one another.
However, the BVI needs an enormous amount of help to recover from the widespread devastation. Our thoughts are with all the people and regions hit by Hurricane Irma, and all those in the US communities currently facing the storm. What makes the Virgin Islands unique is its isolated location – every island has been devastated, so there is no support to come from nearby. We must get more help to the islands to rebuild homes and infrastructure and restore power, clean water and food supplies.
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. The region needs a "Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan" for the BVI and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction and long-term revitalisation of the local economy. This will have to include building resilience against what is likely to be a higher intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, as the effects of climate change continue to grow.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll have to assess exactly what is needed. It is clear to me creating jobs is paramount – there will be a huge amount of rebuilding to be done and people will need work to help rebuild their lives as well as their homes.
As a Group, we are mobilising support for the British Red Cross, bringing in supplies through Virgin Atlantic (my son Sam has also flown into Barbados, bringing emergency supplies to the BVI via boat). We are using our foundation Virgin Unite to coordinate raising money for longer-term reconstruction projects. Virgin Unite is also working with Unite BVI and Virgin Limited Edition to support the local BVI communities. They will be working with local organisations to identify the ongoing needs of affected individuals, families and communities affected by this disaster. We will support the mid to long term efforts on the ground and help provide support as those affected recover from the disaster. Please donate what you can.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support sent to those across the region and to myself. I’ve lived in the BVI for a long time and I know this wonderful part of the world and its amazing people will bounce back stronger than ever. Thank you for your continuing support, it means the world to us.