Mass power outage in North Carolina caused by gunfire, repairs could take days

Tens of thousands were left without power in North Carolina after two power substations were damaged by gunfire, authorities said Sunday. Power in Moore County may not be fully restored until as late as Thursday, an official for Duke Energy warned.

The power outages left at least 40,000 customers without electricity and rendered wastewater pumps out of order across the area. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said Sunday that someone had "opened fire on the substation, the same thing at the other one."

"It was a gate, and they went through the gate, got at the substation and shot it as well," Fields added. He said investigators were still working to determine a motive, but he said that the person or persons responsible "knew exactly what they were doing" and that the attack was "targeted."

"It wasn't random," Fields said. The incident is being investigated as a criminal act, but Fields could not say Sunday if it rises to the level of domestic terrorism.

Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said the extended outages will be because the power cannot be rerouted like it would be during a storm. Instead, Brooks explained, the equipment will have to be repaired or even replaced.

"We are looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment and so we do want citizens of the town to be prepared that this will be a multiday restoration for most customers, extending potentially as long as Thursday," Brooks said.

 / Credit: The Pilot newspaper, Southern Pines
/ Credit: The Pilot newspaper, Southern Pines

Fields said his office is working with the FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation on the investigation. Gov. Roy Cooper has offered resources, along with local congressional offices, Fields said.

There will be a curfew starting at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, Fields said. Schools will be closed on Monday. The sheriff also said increased security would be provided overnight at the substation and around local businesses in the area.

A state of emergency was in effect Sunday night, and a shelter has opened at the Moore County Sports Complex.

Moore County residents began to report power outages around 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, according to the sheriff's office.

"As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites," the office said, noting that "Moore County Sheriff's Deputies and various other law enforcement agencies within the county responded to the different areas and are providing further site security."

Police are asking anyone with information about the alleged incident, which the sheriff's office described as an "act of violence," to contact them.

Power had not been restored in Moore County as of Sunday afternoon, when Duke Energy and Randolph Electric Membership Corporation, two power companies that service the area, continued to report about 37,000 and 3,000 outages, respectively. The number of reported outages roughly equates to the number of households in Moore County, according to census data.

Cooper said Sunday that he had communicated with Duke Energy as well as state law enforcement, who were still working to get the power back on.

"I have spoken with Duke Energy and state law enforcement officials about the power outages in Moore County," Cooper wrote on Twitter. "They are investigating and working to return electricity to those impacted. The state is providing support as needed."

The outages also affected the county's sewer lift stations, and the town of Southern Pines urged people to refrain from driving as "multiple accidents" had already occurred during the first few hours of the blackout.

"[W]e'd like to let you know that our sewer lift stations are currently down due to the widespread power outage in Moore County. Please limit your water and sewer usage to what is absolutely necessary until these stations are operational again," the town wrote in a statement shared to Facebook.

"We also advise staying off the roads if you are in a safe location," the statement continued. "There are multiple accidents that have occurred."

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