Five years later, large New Orleans family 'still walking through Katrina'

Pam Cash is the fifth of 10 siblings and the soul of a large extended family that was scattered by Hurricane Katrina. Their story is one of escape and return, life and death, and miracles. Five years after the storm, it continues.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 28, 2010; 8:04 PM

IN NEW ORLEANS -- All her life, Pam Cash dreamed of a house for her family. But she was poor as pennies. She worked two jobs, cleaning buildings. With every swish of the mop on her night shift, she worried about her children. It broke her heart when her son Curtis got sent to prison, but she still had seven mouths to feed in this wicked dreamscape of a city.

One day Cash realized that the $3,000 she had scuffled to save over the years was enough for a down payment on a house. She found it on Marigny Street. A small, single-story brown duplex with a back yard, opposite a church parking lot. "Me and my kids were so happy to get out of the projects," she says.

Never mind that she was broke again. The Cashes had a home.

Then the water came. And the horror and muck and fury of Hurricane Katrina and the five hard years that have rolled over them all since then - family members killed, a child's two heart surgeries, threats of eviction, accidents, debt.

The storm left them as scattered and broken as uprooted trees. New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and, finally, back to New Orleans, back to the little brown house on Marigny Street.

It was a time of living and dying, of bloodshed and miracles.

Living on dry land but still underwater.

A long road home, to more struggles

When Cash purchased her $80,000 house in 1998, saying goodbye to the Lafitte Projects, it was not just for her own family. Her son Tony took half of the duplex. Nieces and nephews coming across hard times were always welcome. "My mother is like that," says Tony Cash, now 30. "My grandmomma was just like that too."

If they had nothing, they'd still give something.

When Denzel, her then-1-year-old nephew, was whisked off to children's services because his alcoholic mom had left him unattended, family members bragged about how Pam dashed downtown, her husky voice echoing down hallways, demanding Denzel be given to her. "I wasn't gonna let nobody else raise that boy," she says.

Pam Cash, 52, is mother to seven children: Curtis, now 34, Tony, Debra, 27, Michelle, 19, Nelson, 18, Rudolph, 16. She adopted Denzel, now 6.

Nelson has Down's syndrome. Rudolph has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. And Cash has a scowl for anyone remotely suggesting she can't care for them.

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