10 things you need to know today: March 14, 2015

Cyclone Pam batters the island nation of Vanuatu, White House intruder pleads guilty to assault, and more

(Image credit: AP Photo/UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu)

1. Cyclone Pam rips across island nation of Vanuatu, killing at least eight people

Cyclone Pam razed the island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday, cutting off power supplies, ripping up trees, and killing at least eight people — although officials said the death toll will likely rise into the dozens. One of the Pacific Ocean's most powerful storms ever, Pam reached wind speeds of 210 miles per hour and blanketed virtually all of Vanuatu, which is made up of 83 islands off the northeast coast of Brisbane, Australia. Relief workers from the United Nations are gearing up to assist residents who would find themselves homeless and lacking basic necessities such as food and water. Australia has also offered to aid in the island nation's recovery.


2. White House intruder pleads guilty to assault, illegal entry

The Iraq war veteran who made headlines for his attempted intrusion into the White House in September pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of running into the White House armed with a knife. Omar Gonzalez, who suffers from PTSD, made it to the East Room before he was tackled by Secret Service, and he told one agent he needed to inform President Obama of the atmosphere's impending collapse. Gonzalez faces up to 18 years in prison for both charges, plus thousands of dollars in fines.

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3. Disbanded Oklahoma fraternity hires lawyer, may sue school

A group of University of Oklahoma students and alums who were members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity that has been disbanded have hired attorney Stephen Jones, who may represent the group in legal action against the university and its president, David Boren, in the wake of controversy around a video depicting SAE members singing a racist chant. Two of the brothers who had a "leadership role" in the chant have been expelled. Jones, who defended Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, says the university is exploiting an incident in which the students merely "lacked judgment in a social setting."

The Washington Post

4. Sierra Leone's vice president seeks political asylum at U.S. embassy

Samuel Sam-Sumana, vice president of Sierra Leone, is seeking political asylum at the country's U.S. embassy after soldiers surrounded his home on Saturday. Sam-Sumana and his wife fled their residence and are reportedly waiting to meet with the U.S. ambassador. Sierra Leone's ruling party expelled the vice president one week ago, accusing him of lying about his faith, fomenting violence, and falsifying academic credentials, allegations Sam-Sumana has denied. Two weeks ago, the vice president announced he would enter a voluntary quarantine after his bodyguard died of Ebola.

BBC News

5. Pope Francis marks two-year anniversary as pontiff

Friday marked Pope Francis' second anniversary of being elected pontiff, but he said in a television interview this week that he may only have a few years left as pope. "I have a feeling my pontificate will be brief: four or five years," Pope Francis, 78, told Mexico's Televisa. "It is a vague feeling I have that the Lord chose me for a short mission. I am always open to that possibility." Francis has said in the past that he wants the resignation of popes to a more accepted option, adding that his predecessor, Pope Benedict's, decision to resign "should not be considered an exception, but an institution."

The Guardian

6. WHO reports Ebola death toll has passed 10,000

New figures released by the World Health Organization show that at least 10,004 people have died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. More than 24,350 people have been infected during the outbreak, although the number of cases is declining. Liberia has no confirmed Ebola patients currently in its treatment centers, but along with the other two countries, it has not yet declared the outbreak officially over.


7. Alabama closes inquiry into Harper Lee, finds her mentally capable

Alabama's Securities Commission announced on Thursday that it had closed an inquiry into potential elder abuse connected to the upcoming publication of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sequel, Go Set a Watchman. Alabama Securities Commission director Joseph Borg said Lee seemed aware of what was happening with the book when authorities spoke with her during the investigation. Previously, sources had questioned whether Lee, 88, was mentally capable of consenting to the novel's publication.

The Associated Press

8. Gallup poll finds Hillary Clinton beats all potential GOP rivals

A new poll conducted by Gallup on March 3-4 found that Hillary Clinton is viewed favorably by 50 percent of respondents, viewed unfavorably by 39 percent, and recognized by 98 percent. The poll was conducted just as revelations that Clinton had used a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state were making news. Gallup also asked respondents about potential Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential bid, and found that of 11 potential GOP candidates, just one had a similar positive net favorability rating to Clinton; that is Ben Carson, who is recognized by just 28 percent of respondents.


9. South by Southwest declares festival 'drone-free zone'

Austin's South by Southwest asked festival-goers to leave their drones at home, citing concerns about public safety and airwave interference. The festival, which began on Friday and runs through March 22, will be a "drone-free zone," organizers said, for the duration of the event. The main fear appeared to be that the drones' remote controls could disrupt musical performances, due to airwave interference.


10. Pi Day gets once-in-a-century twist

Today is an auspicious one for fans of math; Pi Day, which is celebrated once a year on March 14, gets a special, once-in-a-century twist, thanks to the year 2015. The mathematical constant pi's first five digits are: 3.1415. The next time the numbers will match through that many digits is March 2115. Pi, which is used to calculate the area of a circle, is "kind of a basic atomic building block" for math, Temple University mathematician John Paulos told The Associated Press, during an interview that began at precisely 3:14:15 p.m.

The Associated Press

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Sarah Eberspacher

Sarah Eberspacher is an associate editor at TheWeek.com. She has previously worked as a sports reporter at The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus and The Arizona Republic. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.