With no suspects or motives, the FBI is joining the investigation into power outages in a North Carolina county believed to be caused by “intentional” and “targeted” attacks on substations that left about 40,000 customers in the dark Saturday night, prompting a curfew and emergency declaration.
The mass outage in Moore County turned into a criminal investigation when emergency crews found signs of potential equipment vandalism at various locations — including two substations that had been damaged by gunfire, according to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.
“The person or persons who did this knew exactly what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said during a Sunday press conference. “We don’t have a clue why Moore County.”
Fields said multiple shots were fired at the two substations. “It was purposeful, it wasn’t random,” he said.
The sheriff would not say whether the criminal activity was domestic terrorism, but noted that “no group has come forward to acknowledge or accept that they are the ones who [did] that.”
The authorities announced a mandatory curfew from 21.00 to 5:00 p.m., starting Sunday night, where Fields said the decision was made to protect residents and businesses.
In addition to the FBI, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has joined the investigation, officials said.
More than 33,000 customers were still in the dark across the county Sunday night, the Duke Energy outage map showed. For some, the outage could extend into Thursday, officials said, adding to the lives of tens of thousands.
All schools in the county will be closed Monday, and authorities have opened a shelter that runs on a generator.
Traffic lights are also out, and while a few stores with generators were able to open their doors, several businesses and churches in Moore County were closed Sunday, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.
“We were just getting over Covid. And now this,” the sheriff said, adding, “it’s going to hurt all our restaurants and businesses.”
Inside people’s homes it has become difficult to keep the cold out.
“We have a six-month-old baby in the house. We’ve run out of heat. We’re trying to get her warm,” Carthage resident Chris Thompson told WRAL.
Cool temperatures, with lows in the 30s, were expected in the area overnight Sunday with highs in the 50s and a chance of rain expected Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Moore County is located in central North Carolina, about 80 miles northwest of Fayetteville.
The estimated cost of the substation damage is in the millions, the sheriff said Sunday.
The damage has been significant and redirecting power is not an option, said Jeff Brooks, primary communications manager for Duke Energy.
“Equipment needs to be replaced,” Brooks said. “We’re pursuing multiple recovery paths so we can restore as many customers as quickly as possible. Recognizing that, we’re looking at fairly sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment.”
In addition to the gunshot damage at the substations, 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.
While it’s unclear what motivated the alleged vandalism, the sheriff on Sunday addressed rumors circulating on social media that the attack was an attempt to thwart a local drag show.
Fields said investigators “have not been able to tie anything back to the drag show,” which was scheduled in the town of Southern Pines at 6 p.m. 19 Saturday, around the time the power went out.
The county declared a state of emergency to protect residents and property and maintain public services, authorities said. The countywide curfew is expected to remain in effect each night while the emergency declaration is in effect.
“It’s going to be very, very dark and it’s going to be chilly tonight and we don’t need to have anybody out on the streets, and that’s why we have the curfew,” said state Sen. Tom McInnis of North Carolina. news conference. “Please stay home tonight … the roads are dangerous.”
The emergency order also encourages residents to save fuel.
With streets in darkness, the area has seen more emergency calls and vehicle crashes being reported because the traffic light is out, Cameron told CNN.
People dependent on oxygen have also made emergency calls, he added.
A shelter was opened at the Moore County Sports Complex and trailers with bathroom and shower facilities are being brought in, Moore County Manager Wayne Vest said.
As for schools, it’s unclear how long campuses will remain closed. Moore County Superintendent Tim Locklair said decisions regarding school openings for the rest of the week will be made on a day-by-day basis.