British billionaire Branson calls for 'Marshall Plan' after Irma ravages Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Sept 11 (Reuters) - British billionaire Richard Branson has called for a "Marshall plan" to help the Caribbean recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, which left tens of thousands homeless and sparked looting on islands left short of food and water.

Irma ripped through the Leeward Islands last week as one of the Atlantic's strongest ever storms, uprooting trees, tearing down power cables and severely damaging the homes of poor locals and the global jet-set alike. Nearly 40 deaths were reported across the Caribbean.

As the storm crashed into Florida at the weekend, looting erupted on some Caribbean islands where residents and tourists were stranded with little food, shelter or drinking water.

16 PHOTOS
Impact of Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands
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Impact of Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands
People pick up debris as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
Hurricane Irma, ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churns across the Atlantic Ocean past Puerto Rico over Dominican Republic in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1715 EDT (2115 GMT) on September 6, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Fallen trees block a street as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
Yves (L) removes items from his roof in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Lauriers neighborhood of Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree over a road during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6,2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6, 2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A bulldozer cleans debris in a canal, in Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, in preparation before the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Some people in Cap-Haitien still do not have information on the arrival of Hurricane Irma and many others do not know what to do or where to go to take shelter. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
People take shelter in a school as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Children in a low-income neighborhood carry containers for water as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
TOPSHOT - Jean looks at the sea from a house where he is working in the neighborhood of Aviation in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on September 7, 2017. Hurricane Irma is barrelling past Haiti towards the Turks and Caicos Islands, and then the Bahamas. Irma has produced sustained winds at 295kph (183mph) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said Thursday. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
FAJARDO, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 06: Debris is seen during a storm surge near the Puerto Chico Harbor during the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The category 5 storm is expected to pass over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands today, and make landfall in Florida by the weekend. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
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Despite sending troops and ships to deliver help, France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for an insufficient response in islands that are their territories.

Branson, who has lived in the British Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, weathered Irma on Necker, his private island. In a blog post on www.virgin.com, he said the region needed a "Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan" to aid in recovery and the long-term revitalization of its economy - a reference to the multibillion-dollar U.S. program that helped rebuild Western European after the devastation of World War Two.

"We must get more help to the islands to rebuild homes and infrastructure and restore power, clean water and food supplies," said Branson, head of the Virgin Group conglomerate.

He said he was writing from Puerto Rico, where had traveled to mobilize aid efforts, and said he would be returning to the Virgin Islands soon for recovery work.

Branson said the British government had a "massive role to play" in rebuilding its territories, including the British Virgin Islands, an offshore financial center.

The premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, also appealed for urgent aid from Britain, saying the situation was critical and calling for a comprehensive package. He said the plan should include the possibility of higher intensity and extreme weather "as the effects of climate change continue to grow."

Britain has defended its effort as "as good as anybody else's."

Dutch King Willem-Alexander was due to visit the Dutch side of Saint Martin on Monday, the palace said in a statement. French President Emmanuel Macron was expected in the Caribbean on Tuesday.

President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd Michael Bayley said the company was allocating four ships for humanitarian aid and already had carried out some evacuations.

Britain's Labour Party has accused Branson of being a tax exile. In 2013, Branson said he moved to Necker out of his love for the Virgin Islands, not for tax reasons.

27 PHOTOS
Hurricane Irma spreads destruction across Florida
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Hurricane Irma spreads destruction across Florida
A man died when his pickup truck crashed into a tree in the Florida Keys during Hurricane Irma in Florida, U.S. in this handout photo obtained by Reuters September 10, 2017. Monroe County Sheriff� Department/Handout via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.??
The crumbled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma is seen in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Flood water from Hurricane Irma surround a damaged mobile home in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
The crumbled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma is seen in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A collapsed construction crane is seen in Downtown Miami as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A local resident walks across a flooded street in downtown Miami as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A boat rack storage facility lays destroyed after Hurricane Irma blew though Hollywood, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A smoke shop lays destroyed after Hurricane Irma blew though Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Thomas Sanz clears a fallen branch as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Mailboxes down caused by Hurricane Irma's strong winds and rain in The Vineyards in Monarch Lakes in West Miramar Sunday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2017. As the hurricane moved north up the Gulf coast, it brought violent weather to South Florida. (Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Palm Bay officer Dustin Terkoski walks over debris from a two-story home at Palm Point Subdivision in Brevard County after a tornado touched down on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Brickell Avenue in Miami, Fla. was flooded after Hurricane Irma on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Vineyards in Monarch Lake resident Syed Ali takes pictures of down tree limbs in his neighbor's front yard after Hurricane Irma left the Miramar community, sparing it from major damage other than down trees, branches and mailboxes on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. 'Thank God it didn't fall on either of our houses,' said Ali. (Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Brickell Avenue in Miami, Fla. was flooded after Hurricane Irma on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Flooding near the Hard Rock Stadium as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Fallen trees and flooded streets from Hurricane Irma are pictured in Marco Island, Florida, U.S. in this handout photo obtained by Reuters September 10, 2017. Marco Island Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.??
Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma passes Miami, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Boats are seen at a marina in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Boats are seen at a marina in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A partially submerged car is seen at a flooded area in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Boats are seen at a marina in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Palm trees blow in the winds of hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Florida, northeast of Naples, on September 10, 2017. Hurricane Irma regained strength to a Category 4 storm early as it began pummeling Florida and threatening landfall within hours. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott)

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