By Nouran Salahieh, CNN
Power outages that left around 40,000 customers in the dark Saturday night in North Carolina and prompted an emergency declaration are the subject of a criminal investigation after crews found evidence that substations were “intentionally” damaged by gunfire, authorities said.
The outage in Moore County was first reported around 7 p.m. Saturday and soon spread to the central and southern parts of the county, knocking out power to homes and businesses.
Responding utility crews found signs of potential vandalism of equipment at different sites — including two substations that had been damaged by gunfire, according to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.
Now, federal and state investigators are part of a probe to find a suspect or suspects in the case as crews work to carry out costly repairs that are expected to stretch into Thursday.
As of Sunday night, more than 33,000 customers were still in the dark across the county, the Duke Energy outage map showed.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the substations were “targeted” and the attacks were “intentional.” Here’s what we know about the outages:
Sheriff: Attacks on the substations weren’t random
The sheriff said multiple rounds were fired at the two substations. “It was targeted, it wasn’t random,” he said.
“The person, or persons, who did this knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields said.
Also, a gate at one of the locations appears to have been taken off its hinges, Asst. Chief Mike Cameron of the Southern Pines Fire and Rescue Department told CNN.
The sheriff would not say whether the criminal activity was domestic terrorism but noted “no group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept they’re the ones who [did] it.”
No suspect or motive have been announced
As of early Monday, no suspects had been announced in the case. It’s also unclear whether there were surveillance cameras at the site of the damaged substations.
The motive also remains unknown. “We don’t have a clue why Moore County,” the sheriff said.
Sheriff addressed local rumors
Fields addressed rumors circulating on social media that the attack was an attempt to thwart a local drag show.
Investigators “have not been able to tie anything back to the drag show,” which was scheduled in the town of Southern Pines at 7 p.m. Saturday, around the time the power went out, Fields said.
CNN has reached out to the Sunrise Theater, which was slated to host the event, as well as the Southern Pines Police Department. CNN has also reached out to Sandhills Pride, the organization behind Saturday’s drag event.
The damage will cost millions to fix
The damage is significant and repairs may not be completed until Thursday, said Jeff Brooks, principal communications manager for Duke Energy.
“Unlike, perhaps, a storm where you can go in and reroute power somewhere else, that was not an option in this case,” Brooks said. “In many cases, some of that equipment will have to be replaced.”
The utility is working to restore power as quickly as possible but acknowledges, “We are looking at pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment,” Brooks said.
The estimated cost of the substation damage is in the millions, the sheriff said Sunday.
What local authorities are doing
After the sheriff’s office announced Saturday night that the outage appeared intentional, the county the next day declared a state of emergency and enacted a curfew from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m., starting Sunday night.
Also by Sunday, a shelter running on a generator was opened to residents, who face a dayslong wait until power is restored to their homes and businesses.
The power outage also led officials to cancel Monday classes for all schools in the county. “An announcement will be made tomorrow evening to inform parents and staff of the status of schools for Tuesday,” Moore County Schools said in a tweet Sunday afternoon.
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