Thousands of residents in a North Carolina county entered their third day without lights and heating on Tuesday after “targeted attacks” on two electric substations over the weekend caused widespread outages and shut down schools across the county.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, more than 34,000 utility customers in Moore County were still without power, according to Duke Energy’s online outage tracker. The company serves a total of 47,018 in the county.
“Crews are making good progress on the substation repairs in Moore County,” Duke said in a statement. “Our technicians continue to work in 24-hour shifts and remain on schedule to bring service back on by early Thursday.”
The outages came after a suspect was alleged to have driven up to two Duke Energy power substations Saturday night and opening fire, disabling the two substations and plunging tens of thousands of people into a blackout.
In a news conference Monday evening, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said the attack raises “a new level of threat.”
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the attacks at the substations located in West End and Carthage, about 5 miles apart, appeared to be targeted, but a motive in the attacks remains unclear.
One theory, suggesting the outages may have been intended to shut down a drag performance that had faced backlash and protests, has continued to spread across social media.
On Monday, Fields said authorities had not ruled out a possible connection.
“We are looking at everything right now,” Fields said. “There’s absolutely nothing off the table. We’re investigating all leads.”
“We have cooperation from federal and state law enforcement agencies that are assisting us with this and there’s no stone that we’re leaving unturned,” he said, with the FBI and state investigators joining the inquiry to find out who was behind the attacks and why.
A state of emergency with a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was brought into affect in the county, with shelter arranged for those in need of electricity for medical devices or heating.
Schools, meanwhile, remained closed on Tuesday.
“Due to the continuing widespread power outage in Moore County and on Moore County Schools operations, all schools will be closed to all students and staff on Tuesday,” Moore County Schools said in a tweet Monday.
The said an announcement would be made by 4 p.m. Tuesday on whether schools would remain closed on Wednesday.
In a statement Monday, Duke Energy said crews had restored power to thousands of customers since the two substations were attacked, but the company warned outages could continue for many until at least Thursday.
“We are restoring customers where possible, but the damage is beyond repair in some areas. That leaves us with no option but to replace large pieces of equipment — which is not an easy or quick task,” Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy’s general manager for emergency preparedness said in a statement.
The company explained that electric substations play an important role in getting electricity to customers, as they serve to “regulate voltage coming from generation sources (like power plants) — lowering it so energy can be delivered to homes and businesses.”
The energy company asked that customers turn off appliances and other electrical devices that may have been on when the power went out so there will not be an immediate surge on the system once power is restored.
“Customers affected by outages should consider moving family members — especially those with special needs — to a safe, alternative location due to anticipated time required to fully restore service,” the company said.
It added that it would continue to work with local, state and federal agencies on their ongoing investigation into the incident.
Mirna Alsharif contributed.