After the Hurricanes • Enri Canaj • Magnum Photos

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After the Hurricanes

Enri Canaj captures the immediate aftermath of the destructive forces of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the US Virgin Islands

Enri Canaj

Enri Canaj “The night of the hurricane we closed ourselves in the toilet and spend all night there. The next morning we saw all our house was destroyed”. - Sera, age 13. September 23, 2017. St. Croix, US Virg (...)

In September 2017, the US Virgin Islands were already suffering the effects of Hurricane Irma, which battered the island, when another category 5 hurricane, Maria, provided a second destructive punch just 14 days later. The islands were without electricity, hospitals were destroyed and food supplies were limited. Due to the difficult conditions, very few photographers were able to make it to and operate on the Islands. Magnum nominee Enri Canaj visited the area after Irma and during Maria. His photographs and testimony paint a portrait of a place in a state of emergency, where many people are still in a state of shock and, despite tensions running high, the human spirit of resistance endures.

Enri Canaj A day after Hurricane Maria battered the island of St. Croix. September 21, 2017. St. Croix. US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj One week after Hurricane Irma. September 17, 2017. St. Thomas. US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Structural damage after the storm. September 18, 2017. St. Thomas. US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj After Hurricane Maria battered the island of St. Croix. September 23, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj “I was sitting in my chair and was  starring from the window. It was the first time that I saw the coconut tree reach the ground. In the same moment the house started to fall apart. I got scared, c (...)

“The first day when Maria was still a category 1-2 I went to St Thomas using a local ferry. The island was devastated from Irma, there were many destroyed buildings, lots of trees were down, there was no electricity on the island and there were only a few spots where you could get mobile phone reception,” said Canaj.

“Cars were only allowed to move around between midday and 6pm, and the traffic amplified the chaos of the situation. People had to wait in long lines to get water, food and gas. Locals were exhausted, sad, angry and tensions ran high, which is understandable given the circumstances and all they had lost.”

Enri Canaj A day after Hurricane Maria battered the island of St. Croix. September 23, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj “I came here 4 years ago and I bought this house to spend the rest of my life in it. Maria destroyed it!” - Demetria Hugo. September 21, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Structural damage after the storm. September 23, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Structural damage after the storm. September 21, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj “All that water was coming in. Its still there now.” - Jesus Filis, who spent the night Hurricane Maria hit the island inside his house. September 20, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos

When Maria reached the Islands Canaj was in St Croix, spending the night in one of the few hotels that remained open. “The noise from the wind and rain was huge, and, from the window it was difficult to see anything in the dark grey that had covered everything,” he remembers.

“The next morning I managed to go outside even though it was a state of emergency. I felt like I was the only one on the Island – it didn’t feel real. The sky was heavy and gray, the boats has been thrown out of the sea, trees were down, blocking the roads, houses were destroyed – and it was silent. Some of the people I met didn’t have much to day. They were in shock, stood outside of their destroyed houses.”

Those people included 13-year-old Sera, who Canaj photographed in the ruins of her home. “The night of the hurricane we closed ourselves in the toilet and spend all night there. The next morning we saw all our house was destroyed,” she told him.

Enri Canaj US Soldiers have a moment of silence one week after Hurricane Irma. September 17, 2017. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Structural damage after the storm. September 18, 2017. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Locals waiting at the supermarket after Hurricane Maria. September 23, 2017. St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Cutting hair outside a barber shop with no electricity one week after Hurricane Irma. September 17, 2017. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos

In the days leading up to Maria, Canaj captured chaotic scenes; supermarkets were full as people queued for half a day to get basic supplies, such as water and food. Canaj stayed in St Croix for five days after Maria. Although, by the time Canaj was preparing to leave he witnessed assistance from the US Navy arriving, and attempts to get back to some semblance of normal life, such as a barber shop pitching up despite the former premises being without electricity, it was still very much a state of emergency. “When I left there was still the same chaotic atmosphere as there was on the first morning after the hurricane.”

Enri Canaj A man collecting shells on the beach the morning after Hurricane Maria hit the island. September 22, 2017. St. Croix. US Virgin Islands. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos