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Video: Winslet saves Branson’s mom from blaze

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    >>> now to a dramatic rescue tied to hurricane irene , lightning from the storm is being blamed for a massive fire that ripped through the luxury caribbean home of sir richard branson . natalie has details. good morning.

    >> good morning again, carl. richard branson said what happened to his home is straight out of a movie but the flames were real. this morning he's praising an oscar-winning actress who was there to perform a daring rescue. the raging flames tore through the luxurious compound early monday as richard branson and 20 guests were sleeping.

    >> it took hold incredibly quickly. we woke up just to see gigantic 100-foot flames in the sky. it ripped through the house unbelievably quickly.

    >> reporter: branson 's 25-year-old son sam heard explosions in the main house , sounded the alarm and ran over to help.

    >> it was terrifying to me because my daughter and nephews, nieces, friends were all staying in the house . i just ran naked towards the house to try to see if i could make sure i could get people out.

    >> reporter: inside the burning home branson 's 90-year-old mother eve, oscar winning actress kate winslet who sprang into action for a daring rescue.

    >> she was staying there with her children. she had staying at the house with my mother. she said it was like being in the film waiting for the words cut but they just don't come.

    >> reporter: everyone made it out okay but the largest home on the private and exclusive island known as the great house was destroyed. monday afternoon branson tweeted, thank you all for your kind messages. currently just huddled up with family and friends in the continuing tropical storm realizing what really matters in life. branson is the chairman of the virgin group which includes virgin atlantic airways and virgin mega stores . he's owned the island paradise in the caribbean for more than 30 years.

    >> this is a place where the rich and the famous come to enjoy themselves.

    >> reporter: matt got his own private tour of the island in 2004 from richard branson himself. these 74-acre island retreat costs $10 million to build, six homes make up the estate which can be rented for $54,000 a night. it's been a vacation getaway for celebrities like oprah winfrey , johnny depp , robert de niro , and jimmy fallon . nick lachey and vanessa got married on the island last month. sir branson and his family, it's their own private paradise. but now it's damaged beyond repair. richard branson says he's going to rebuild. and branson says his office was based in the house , so he lost thousands of photographs and notebooks. his daughter holly was planning to get married there later this year. and, carl, as for kate winslet , apparently, like being on a film set waiting for the director to yell the words cut and that never came.

    >> safe to say they were very, very lucky.

    >> very lucky. no one injured.

TODAY news services
updated 8/23/2011 8:49:44 AM ET 2011-08-23T12:49:44

Richard Branson says Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet helped rescue his elderly mother from a fire that destroyed his Caribbean home.

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The Virgin Group boss said about 20 people, including Winslet, her children, and his mother were staying in the eight-bedroom Great House on Necker, his private isle in the British Virgin Islands when it was struck by lightning during a tropical storm early Monday.

Branson said no one was hurt. He said in his blog that he wanted to offer "many thanks to Kate Winslet for helping to carry my 90 year (old) mum out of the main house to safety." He joked that Winslet "was wondering when a director was going to shout 'CUT!'"

Branson said he was staying in another property around 100 yards (meters) away with his wife, Joan and son Sam, 25.

He said the fire broke out around 4 a.m. during a tropical storm with lightning and high winds, and Sam managed to help evacuate Winslet and other guests from the house. Branson said the guests, including his daughter Holly, 29, all managed to get out safely.

Tropical Storm Irene walloped the Virgin islands and headed towards Puerto Rico late Sunday and early Monday, strengthening into a hurricane Monday with winds of about 80mph (130 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Winslet's spokeswoman, Sara Keene, confirmed the actress was unharmed.

Branson said the house was "completely destroyed" and the fire was not entirely out Monday.

"My office was based in the house and I have lost thousands of photographs which is very sad," Branson said.

He said he planned to rebuild the house "as soon as we can."

"We'll all stay here for the time being," he said. "There's a lot of damage and we won't be able to stick it back together again right away."

Video: Watch trailer for Winslet's new 'Contagion' (on this page)

Virgin said the cause of the fire was still being investigated but lightning was the likely culprit.

Branson, 60, bought the island in the early 1980s and began building the Great House in 1982. He also has developed an exclusive eco-resort on the island showcasing renewable energy technology.

Winslet, 35, shot to international stardom with her appearance opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in James Cameron's "Titanic," and sealed her reputation with a best actress Academy Award in 2009 for "The Reader."

She has two children, 10-year-old Mia and Joe, 7, from marriages to directors Jim Threapleton and Sam Mendes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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