A gunfire attack on two electrical substations in rural North Carolina has left tens of thousands of people without power, schools closed, a curfew imposed, and authorities investigating what they say was an intentional, criminal attack.
As the outages continued into Monday, questions persisted about who carried out the attack and what could have been their motive in knocking out power to Moore County and its 100,000 residents.
"What happened here Saturday night was a criminal act, and federal, state and local law enforcement are actively working to bring those responsible to justice," said Gov. Roy Cooper at a Monday press conference.
"Protecting critical infrastructure like our power system must be a top priority. This kind of attack raises a new level of threat," Cooper said. "We will be evaluating ways to work with our utility providers and our state and federal officials to make sure that we harden our infrastructure where that's necessary and work to prevent future damage."
The outage began shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday night near Carthage, N.C., and soon spread to encompass the majority of the county. The damage to the substations could run into the millions of dollars, officials said. About 35,000 customers remained without power Monday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, and the utility company warned that outages could last through Thursday.
Authorities have urged families with medical needs and other people dependent on electricity to seek shelter at a facility with a generator or to leave the county altogether until power can be restored.
Officials have so far stopped short of calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism but have insisted that any perpetrators will be prosecuted.
Here's what we know — and what we don't — about the attacks:
The power outages were caused by intentional gunfire. Authorities have vowed to pursue criminal consequences
One or more people used a firearm to attack two Duke Energy substations on Saturday evening, causing extensive damage.
Authorities have not yet released much other information about the attack, including any information about who carried it out, or what the motive may have been, saying only that the investigation is ongoing.
The sheriff did say that whoever is responsible "knew exactly what they were doing to cause the damage and cause the outage that they did."
Local authorities are investigating the incident with the assistance of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. Asked whether the incident could be called "domestic terrorism," the governor said investigators "are looking at every motivation that could have possibly occurred."
Officials have emphasized that intentional destruction of utility infrastructure is a serious crime and say they intend to prosecute the perpetrators.
"This was a terrible act, 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," said state Sen. Tom McInnis, who represents Moore County.
Repairs will be costly and take days
The attack caused "millions of dollars" of damage to the substations, the sheriff said. Duke Energy says that crews are working 24-hour shifts to make repairs.
"We are looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment, so we do want citizens of the town to be prepared that this will be a multi-day restoration for most customers, extending potentially as long as Thursday," said Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks.
At one of the damaged substations, located near Pinehurst, trucks carrying equipment were seen coming and going on Monday as crews worked to make repairs.
"Unlike perhaps a storm, where you can go in and reroute power somewhere else, that was not an option in this case. So repair has to be completed. In many cases, some of that equipment will have to be replaced," Brooks said.
Tens of thousands of people are still without power, which has significantly disrupted everyday life
The power outages affected most of south and central Moore County, the most populous part of the county, authorities said.
Schools across the county were closed Monday. Stoplights were dark, gas stations were closed and cell signal was spotty. A curfew from the hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. would remain in place until power had been restored, officials said.
County officials set up a makeshift emergency shelter in Southern Pines, where a steady stream of residents, some with children in tow, came and went Monday to charge their phones, connect to the internet and warm themselves from the cold.
Resident Gail Clark brought coffee cake and other snacks to share with people at the shelter. She had been stranded at home, she said, her car trapped behind her electric garage door, before a friend offered her a ride to the shelter.
"You can't cook. You can't turn on your TV. You can't turn on a light. I don't want to take a shower because it's freezing cold in my house," Clark said. Like other residents of the county, she said she planned to leave the area entirely until power was restored.
Another woman at the shelter, Lucille Christie, said she had spent the last two nights alone in her home. Her cellphone died Sunday night, and she waved down a neighbor Monday morning who gave her a ride to shelter so she could recharge.
"I think what you realize, for me, when these things happen, how much you really depend on the conveniences that we have as Americans," Christie said.
Becky Sullivan reported from Washington, D.C. Nick de la Canal reported from Moore County, N.C.
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