Obama posts heartfelt video on Maui wildfires: ‘We have to step up’

‘Thoughts and prayers in a moment like this are not enough,’ former president tells public as he appeals for donations to help those impacted by the wildfires

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 15 August 2023 14:12 BST
Barack Obama's message to people of Hawaii after deadly wildfires

Former US president Barack Obama has posted an emotional video to social media in response to the devastating Hawaii wildfires, which have already claimed at least 99 lives.

“Aloha everybody. Like so many people around the world, Michelle and I have been absolutely heartbroken by the devastating images coming out of Maui and Lahaina over the last week,” the Democrat said.

“As someone who grew up in Hawaii, as someone who has taken my family to enjoy the incredible beauty of that island and the hospitality of the people of Lahaina, we now find ourselves mourning the lives that are lost and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have lost so much.

He continued: “The thing about it is though, thoughts and prayers in a moment like this are not enough. We have to step up. We have to help those families and we have to help Lahaina rebuild.

“And the good news is that the Hawaii Red Cross and Malama Maui are mobilising to provide direct support to people who are desperately in need.”

Mr Obama urged his followers to pull together to support the relief efforts as the Hawaiian island faces a long road to recovery and an estimated $1bn insured losses, according to Moody’s.

“I’m asking you to do everything you can to generously support the Malama Maui effort,” he said.

“If all of us – the Ohana – pull together and do as much as we can to give back to an island and a town and people who have given us so much I am absolutely confident that Lahaina and Maui and those families are going to be able to rebuild but we’ve got to be a part of that.

“So please, provide generous support to the Hawaii Red Cross and to Malama Maui right now.”

He shared a link alongside the video to the American Red Cross website encouraging donations from the public, which stood close to $500,000 as of early Tuesday morning.

Mr Obama has close ties to Hawaii. He was born at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu on 4 August 1961, making him the only US president to be born both in Hawaii and outside of the continental United States.

His parents, American mother Ann Dunham and Kenyan father Barack Obama Sr, had met at a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii in Manoa in 1960 and married in Wailuku on 2 February 1961.

The couple separated in March 1964, with the young Mr Obama spending the majority of his early years in Hawaii before his mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian graduate student studying geography on the islands, who eventually relocated the family to his home country in 1967.

Wildfire wreckage in Lahaina, Hawaii

After attending elementary school in Jakarta, Mr Obama would return to Hawaii in 1971 aged 10 to live with his maternal grandparents and attend Punahou School – a private college preparatory institution.

There, he proved himself a popular student and spent his formative years writing poetry, playing basketball, listening to jazz and rock and roll records and smoking marijuana – a subject he has written openly about in his memoirs.

He carried on living in Hawaii until he graduated high school in 1979 and took up a scholarship at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.

“The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear,” Mr Obama once reflected in an essay for The Punahou Bulletin newspaper in 1999.

Other celebrities with ties to the islands including Jason Mamoa, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Bella Hadid have made similar appeals for donations in response to the natural disaster in recent days.

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