Authorities have declared a mandatory curfew in a North Carolina county where about 40,000 customers lost power after two substations were damaged by gunfire Saturday night.
The county will institute a mandatory curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Sunday night, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a news conference Sunday.
City and county officials “have prepared a plan for the night and nights to come when we may be out of power. It’s a very serious situation,” Fields said. “So we’ve come to an agreement to best protect our citizens and to protect our county’s businesses. We’re going to implement a curfew tonight.”
A state of emergency went into effect at 4 p.m. Sunday as law enforcement, city and energy officials investigate the incident and work to restore the two substations, authorities said. Law enforcement officers have also provided security for the stations, according to the sheriff.
The power outage is being investigated as a “criminal event” after crews found signs of possible vandalism at several locations, DailyExpertNews previously reported.
Fields said multiple shots were fired at the two substations. “It was targeted, it wasn’t random,” he said.
No suspects have been identified in connection with the incident. Fields would not say whether the criminal activity was domestic terrorism.
“The person or persons doing this knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields said. “We have no idea why Moore County.”
Fields acknowledged a woman who posted on Facebook Sunday morning that she had been questioned by police in connection with the incident. Fields did not name the woman, but said she posted false information on social media, claiming to have information behind the incident.
“We have nothing,” Fields said when asked about a possible motive. “No motivation, no group has come forward to acknowledge or accept that they are the ones who [did] the.”
A gate at one of the sites also appears to have come off its hinges, Mike Cameron of the Southern Pines Fire and Rescue Service told DailyExpertNews Sunday afternoon.
Cameron said the area is receiving more emergency calls because of the lack of power, adding that there have been car accidents because traffic lights are off. People dependent on oxygen have placed emergency calls, he said.
More than 37,000 customers across the country were without power by Sunday night, according to Duke Energy’s outage map. About 38,000 customers experienced power outages in Moore County and neighboring Hoke County, according to poweroutage.us.
Moore County manager Wayne Vest said a shelter on a generator was opened Sunday afternoon at the Moore County Sports Complex in conjunction with the Red Cross. Vest said additional trailers with bathroom and shower facilities are also being brought to the shelter.
The estimated cost of the damage to the substation is in the “millions,” the sheriff said.
Restoration of the two substations could take until Thursday for some customers, Jeff Brooks, chief communications manager for Duke Energy, said at Sunday’s news conference.
“We will be working around the clock, all hands on deck, to get power back as quickly and safely as possible,” Brooks said.
Duke Energy will continue to work with the Moore Sheriff’s Office and county officials to support the investigation.
Brooks said there had been a “deliberate impact” on the substation, which damaged multiple substation appliances, resulting in power outages. In this case, redirecting power is not an option, he said.
“Equipment will need to be replaced,” Brooks said. “We are looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with large equipment. For most customers, this will be a multi-day restoration, possibly through Thursday.”
According to a press release from supermarket chain Harris Teeter, a local supermarket is distributing ice cream to affected residents.
The power outage also led officials to cancel Monday classes for all schools in the province. “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.
Several communities across the county experienced power outages just after 7 p.m. Saturday, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.
“As utilities began responding to the various substations, evidence was discovered indicating that deliberate vandalism had occurred at multiple locations,” the agency said.
At least two substations were vandalized “with criminal intent,” U.S. Representative Richard Hudson said in a press release Sunday morning.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are responding, according to Hudson. He said the motive remains unknown.
Hudson, whose congressional district includes Moore County, said the Southern Pines Police Department has opened a community center where residents can charge devices.
DailyExpertNews has contacted the Southern Pines Police Department and the FBI.
During Sunday’s press conference, Fields addressed rumors circulating on social media that the attack was an attempt to thwart a local drag show.
Fields said law enforcement officials are working on all sides but “have been unable to link anything to the drag show,” which was scheduled for Saturday night in the nearby town of Southern Pines.
On its website, the Sunrise Theater advertised the “Downtown Divas!” drag show starting at 7 p.m. Shortly afterward, the power went out, Fields said.
DailyExpertNews has contacted the Sunrise Theater and the Southern Pines Police Department. DailyExpertNews has also reached out to Sandhills Pride, the organization behind Saturday’s drag event.
“This was a terrible act,” North Carolina state senator Tom McInnis said at the news conference. “And it appears to be an intentional, willful and malicious act, and the perpetrator will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Crews experienced “multiple equipment failures” affecting substations in Moore County, Duke Energy spokesman Brooks told DailyExpertNews affiliate WRAL.
“We are also investigating signs of possible vandalism related to the outages,” Brooks said.
Deputies and agents from other law enforcement agencies came to the various locations to provide security, the sheriff’s office said.
Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted on Sunday that state law enforcement officers would join the investigation.
“I have spoken with Duke Energy and state law enforcement about the power outages in Moore County. They are investigating and working to return electricity to those affected,” Cooper said. “The state supports where necessary.”
Moore County is located in central North Carolina, about 50 miles northwest of Fayetteville.