The strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic slammed into the Caribbean today as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 185 mph. Hurricane Irma cut a swath of destruction on a number of leeward islands as it churns toward Florida.
The National Hurricane Center said that as of 8 pm ET, the storm was passing just north of Puerto Rico, and it posted hurricane warnings for that U.S. territory along with the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands. Cuba is on hurricane watch.
Among the islands devastated by the monster storm is Barbuda, where Robert De Niro co-owns a resort. He and James Packer, son of the late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer, bought the K Club Resort last year and renamed it the Paradise Found Nobu Resort. While there is no word on the fate of that particular property, the two-time Oscar winner said in a statement today: “We are beyond saddened to learn of the devastation in Barbuda caused from Hurricane Irma and look forward to working with the Paradise Found Nobu Resort team, the Barbuda Council, GOAB and the entire Barbuda community to successfully rebuild what nature has taken away from us.”
In a Facebook Live discussion today, Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that about 95% of the properties on the island nation of 1,500 people have been damaged. “Barbuda is barely habitable,” he said. “At least 60 percent of the population of Barbuda is actually homeless [now].”
As of early this morning, communications with Barbuda have been cut off entirely.
Earlier today, Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of the Virgin empire, said he and his team were hunkering down on his private Necker Island, part of the British Virgin Islands. He tweeted several times in the hours leading up to Irma’s arrival but has not published a new one in more than 13 hours. “The strength of this hurricane is unheard of,” Branson wrote in a blog post early today. “Our main concern is safety, for everyone here and for all the people in the BVI and in the path of the hurricane.” At last check, he and his were “retreating to a concrete wine cellar” to ride the storm out: