Authorities are investigating widespread power outages in south-central North Carolina as a deliberate criminal act after an electrical substation was damaged by gunfire, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said late Saturday.
An estimated 45,000 customers were without electricity late Saturday, with no estimate of a recovery time because a number of facilities are involved and the work will be complicated, said Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for utility company Duke Energy.
Utility company Duke Energy said nearly 38,000 customers were without power in Moore County, while the Randolph Electric Membership Corporation reported nearly 3,000 customers in the southern part of the county were affected by outages, WRAL-TV reported.
According to Brooks, power could be out until Thursday while equipment at the substation is replaced.
“Unlike maybe a storm where you can go in and reroute power somewhere else, that wasn’t an option in this case,” Brooks said at Sunday night’s news conference. “We recognize that, we’re looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with fairly large equipment and so we want the city residents to be prepared that this will be a multi-day restoration for most customers, potentially lasting into Thursday.”
Sewer lift stations were also out of order and authorities advised residents to stay off the roads. “There have been multiple accidents,” the Southern Pines administration said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Authorities are still looking for the individuals responsible for firing multiple shots at the electrical substation, which damaged the equipment, and for a motivation to do so.
A drag show was scheduled for Saturday night at a theater near Moore County, but it was cut short due to the outage, The Pilot reports. When asked if the outage had any connection to the drag show, Fields said that while it’s possible, authorities “have been unable to link anything to the drag show.”
The FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations are assisting in the investigation.
In response to the blackout, a curfew was imposed in Moore County on Sunday evening, and will be implemented nationwide from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., Fields said at a news conference. It will be in effect for “the next few nights,” he said.
Fields said the disturbances were unprecedented and that he had never seen anything like it in his 40-year career with the police force.
As part of the curfew, officials are encouraging residents to stay home and not take to the streets
The outage began around 7 p.m. Saturday in Moore County, the sheriff said.
“As utilities began responding to the various substations, evidence was discovered indicating that deliberate vandalism had occurred at multiple locations,” Fields said.
Local authorities were present in communities affected by the outage. It was not clear whether this was to discourage looting or as part of the investigation.
The village of Pinehurst said extra police were on the streets overnight and urged residents to stay home.
“Officers have been called in to assist,” the village said in a statement. “Please stay off the roads if you can and treat all intersections as four-way stops.”
Kurt Chirbas contributed.