The local Cuban newspaper put it this way: “A month after Irma's lashing, the northern coastal region of Sancti Spiritus wakes up each day looking as though the hurricane had just hit.”
A month after the Category 5 storm devastated central Cuba, official news media in the region are reporting that the recovery has barely started in some of the hardest-hit towns.
According to Escambray newspaper, many residents of Yaguajay — a town north of Sancti Spiritus where more than 10,000 homes were damaged — are living in an evacuation center where the roof leaks and the mattresses are stuffed with sanitary pads.
“That's the entrance for all the rain we had the other day in Yaguajay, and swarms of mosquitoes that can lift my children in the air,” Yadira Turiño, a mother of two and pregnant with a third, told the newspaper as she pointed to a huge hole in the roof over the space assigned to her at the shelter.
Bureaucracy and the slow pace of assistance add to the sense of anguish among the victims.
Out of the 10,070 homes damaged, “only 1,170 cases have been resolved,” said Marelys Cedeño Cardoso, president of the Yaguajay municipality. She acknowledged that the assistance arriving was not enough and that the area was not recovering quickly.
“No, we suffered damages that were too strong and the infrastructure in the urban and rural areas was severely impacted,” she told the paper.
The Escambray articled noted: “What we cannot let happen, in any way, is that anyone affected winds up in a bureaucratic limbo.”
The post-Irma problems are not exclusive to Yaguajay.
In Punta Alegre, on the northern coast of Ciego de Ávila province, residents complained about the slow pace of government aid to a vice minister of the Cuban armed forces, Gen. Joaquín Quintas Solá, when he visited the area last week.
The temporary center for selling construction materials in Punta Alegre “became the scenario for a meeting of officials with several town residents who criticized the slow delivery of materials,” wrote the province's Invasor newspaper.
“Clear examples were aired by local authorities who reported that only 250 mattresses had been distributed in an area where 2,300 are needed,” the newspaper reported.
The national media, meanwhile, has painted a positive image of the recovery in Isabela de Sagua, a coastal town in Santa Clara province where videos posted on social networks showed that Irma demolished nearly half the homes.
“Families received various products from donations by the World Food Program, including rice, grains, canned beef and other items. More than 1,500 mattresses, 567 bathroom kits and 535 sets of household items were also distributed,” the Communist Party's Granma newspaper reported.
But the local Perlavision television station reported that many of its 2,200 residents were considering abandoning the town because of the severe damages.
And that's just a tiny portion of existing problems.
The Cuban government has yet to publish an estimate of the overall damages caused by Irma, but they were clearly massive because of the island's already weak infrastructure. Preliminary figures issued by the National Defense Council showed 158,000 homes were damaged, including 14,657 that collapsed and more than 23,000 that lost their roofs.
The United Nations office in Havana reported that 95,000 hectares (234,749 acres) of crops were destroyed, and damages to chicken farms led to the rationing of eggs around the country.
At the end of September, 11,689 people were still “receiving government support for food and other basic necessities,” Granma reported.
In Havana, some of that support came with a price tag. One day after Irma brought massive floods to the capital, the government started selling food supplies to the families affected, sparking widespread complaints. It recently started selling mattresses at prices that are discounted but still largely unaffordable by state employees and retirees.
Cuba has received substantial humanitarian aid from the United Nations, the European Union and countries like Venezuela, Russia, Panama, Japan, the United Kingdom and Honduras. But the distributions remains exclusively in the hands of the government. A Canadian man who tried to deliver aid to Isabela de Sagua was recently arrested.
However, that has not stopped other initiatives to raise funds for the affected communities.
Several island musicians, among them singer-songwriter Descemer Bueno, reggaeton stars Yomil and el Dany, and the duo Buena Fe are organizing a series of concerts to help families in Isabela de Sagua, Caibarién and other towns affected, Bueno wrote on his Facebook page.
A rap song making the rounds on social media asked why Cuban performers who live abroad had not donated their own money to help Irma's victims — like other artists have done to help Puerto Rico.
It's not clear what mechanisms the Cuban musicians can use to deliver aid to hurricane victims. “We will do whatever we can, although we know how difficult it will be,” Bueno wrote. “But no one can withstand the power of the heart.”
In Miami, CubaOne Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects young Cuban Americans with their peers on the island, has raised more than $50,000 in humanitarian assistance. A group of Cuban Americans will deliver the aid later this month to communities in Ciego de Ávila, Santa Clara and Camagüey, through non-government organizations that have licenses to operate on the island.
“We want the Cuban people to know that they have not been forgotten,” said Giancarlo Sopo, founder and chairman of the board of directors at CubaOne. “We see them, we hear them and we will support them in these difficult times.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres