Billionaires' homes under threat from Hurricane Irma as Richard Branson bunkers down on Necker Island while Roman Abramovich's $50million St Barts pad lies in its devastating path

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Richard Branson is refusing to leave his 74-acre Necker Island complex in the British Virgin Islands despite the 'extremely dangerous' Hurricane Irma crashing into the Caribbean.
Mass evacuations are to take place in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean after the hurricane - the size of France - became the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean with 185mph winds.
This morning, the 'potentially catastrophic' hurricane slammed into Barbuda just hours after officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's 'onslaught' in a statement that closed with: 'May God protect us all.'
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported that the storm is headed northwest toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with potential for storm surges of up to 20 feet above normal tide levels. 
'Preparations should be rushed to completion in the hurricane warning area,' the NHC said.
But Branson, writing on his blog yesterday, said he is not going to leave his island to dodge the storm.     
The monster hurricane, the most powerful on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, is packing maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour.
The storm was moving towards the west at 14 miles per hour, and is expected to drop between four and eight inches of rain when it hits land.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's $50million pad on St Barts - in Guadeloupe - is also in the hurricane's path. 
Schools and government offices in the French overseas territory have been ordered shut, while hospitals are stocking up on medicines, food and drinking water.  
People living on shorelines will be moved to safety, authorities said.
In Guadeloupe, families filed into shelters with their children, along with tourists. 
British Airways has already cancelled a flight from Gatwick to Antigua in light of the warnings. 
In addition to Irma, Tropical Storm Jose has now formed behind it in the open Atlantic far from land. Jose is the 10th tropical storm of the season. It has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and is about 1505 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. 
U.S. President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate the residents of six islands at the southern end of the island chain.   
'These rainfall amounts may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,' the NHC warned.
The storm is also is expected to 'cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.'
Branson fully acknowledged the danger of Hurricane Irma, stressing that the 'devastation' they can cause 'cannot be overstated', but said he will stay on his island regardless. 
He said: 'On Necker Island we have constructed really strong buildings (with hurricane blinds) that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well, though with a Category 5 hurricane almost nothing can withstand it.  
'We had some lovely guests staying on Necker Island who have cut their trip short for safety reasons, and another group of guests have also postponed. 
'I will be on Necker alongside our team, as I have been on the three times we have had hurricanes over the past 30 years.'
His main concern, he added, was for the locals on the British Virgin Islands - as well as the island's fauna.
He explained: 'I am also concerned for the wonderful wildlife of the BVI, not least on Necker and Moskito, where many flamingos, lemurs, scarlet ibis and other stunning species live.               
'Hopefully all people and animals can keep out of harm’s way in the coming days.'
Hurricanes, he said, are 'one of the wonders of the natural world', adding: '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.'
And the businessman also took the opportunity to discuss the need to support the Paris agreement on clean energy.
He said: 'Man-made climate change is a key factor in the increasing intensity of these hurricanes, as many experts have suggested. The damage caused by Harvey all over Texas is a tragic and costly reminder that our climate is changing and that we are not doing enough to tackle this enormous challenge.'  
Irma, which has triggered alarm and alerts from the French West Indies to Florida, comes after of Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana late last month. 
There have been hurricane warnings sent out to Antigua, Barbuda Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius and Sint Maarten. 
They have also been issued for Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, the British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.
A hurricane watch is in effect for Guadeloupe and Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti.
There also been a tropical storm warning issued to Guadeloupe and Dominica and a a tropical storm watch for Dominican Republic from south of Cabo Engao to Isla Saona. 
A state of emergency has already been announced in Puerto Rico, with Governor Ricardo Rossello announcing the availability of emergency shelters capable of housing 62,000 people.        
Schools have also been closed on the island.  
Meanwhile schools and government offices in Guadeloupe have been ordered shut, while hospitals are stocking up on medicines, food and drinking water. 
People living on shorelines will be moved to safety, authorities said in the Guadeloupe capital Marigot.
Saint Barthelemy and St Martin islands, both popular holiday destinations, are expected to be especially hard hit.
The top French official of the islands, Anne Laubies, said the hurricane posed the greatest threat in 20 years, with more people endangered in flood-prone areas because of a rise in population. Americans in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida are stocking up on supplies for a storm that's expected to hit the Leeward Islands soon.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state on Monday after some forecasts showed the powerful storm could be headed for the East Coast.      
'Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma's path - potentially impacting millions of Floridians,' Scott said. 
'Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.' 
Floridians took advantage of the Labor Day holiday to empty many store shelves of drinking water and other supplies in advance of Irma
By mid-day Monday, many grocery stores across South Florida had been emptied of bottled water and stores were hoping to restock beginning Tuesday morning.
States of emergency were also declared in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands where residents rushed to find last-minute supplies, forming long lines outside supermarkets and gas stations. 
People in Puerto Rico braced for electricity outages after the director of the island's power company predicted that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for four to six months. 
But 'some areas will have power (back) in less than a week,' Ricardo Ramos told radio station Notiuno 630 AM. The utility's infrastructure has deteriorated greatly during a decade-long recession, and Puerto Ricans experienced an island wide outage last year. 
Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands expected four inches to eight inches of rain and winds of 40-50 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph.
'This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,' U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned. 'It's not time to get on a surfboard.' 
Irma grew into a Category 4 storm on Monday, any by early Tuesday, it's maximum sustained winds increased to near 150 miles per hour. In comparison, Hurricane Harvey had winds of 130 mph when it made landfall in Texas last week. It was centered about 320 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 14 mph.
It is forecast to begin buffeting the region on Tuesday and the US National Hurricane Center said additional strengthening was expected.  
Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, cause landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet.
In the Caribbean, hurricane warnings were issued for 12 island groups, including Antigua, where the governor urged people to evacuate the tiny island of Anegada if they could ahead of the storm.   
Vivian Wheatley, proprietor of the Anegada Reef Hotel, planned to stay behind. She said she would stay in one of the hotel rooms and take advantage of the generator since there were no guests.
'We know it's a very powerful (storm), and we know it's going to be very close,' she said. 'Let's hope for the best.'
A hurricane warning was posted for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and St. Barts, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin islands. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Guadeloupe and Dominica. 
The storm's center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said. 
'Irma is a serious threat for the Caribbean islands and United States,' AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said on Monday. 
It is still unclear what path Irma will take as it inches closer to the US.
Right now, meteorologists say landfall in Georgia, Florida or the Carolinas are all possible. The storm could also move out into the Atlantic and completely bi-pass the East Coast, though that is now the least likely option. 
'This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,' Evan Myers, Expert Senior Meteorologist and Chief Operating Officer said.
If it does hit the U.S., it won't be until this weekend, but residents in the southern U.S. shouldn't waste time getting an emergency plan together.
'As we saw just 10 days ago with Harvey, it is important to be ready to evacuate and be prepared with at a minimum, a list of items you would take if you had 30 minute notice or 1 hours notice of 6 hours or a day to evacuate,' Myers said.  

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