With no suspects or announced motives, the FBI joins the investigation into power outages in a North Carolina county that were allegedly caused by “intentional” and “targeted” attacks on substations that left about 40 000 customers in the dark on Saturday evening, causing a curfew and declaration of emergency.
The massive outage in Moore County turned into a criminal investigation when utility crews found signs of potential vandalism of equipment at various sites – including two substations that had been damaged by gunfire , according to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.
“The person or persons who did this knew exactly what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a news conference Sunday. “We have no idea why Moore County.”
Fields said bullets were fired at both substations. “It was targeted, it wasn’t random,” he said.
The sheriff would not comment on whether the criminal activity was domestic terrorism, but noted that “no group has stepped in to acknowledge or accept that they are the ones who (did it).”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called the incidents a “criminal attack”. The Democrat said the state will ensure essential services are supported.
Cooper told CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that it’s important to find the perpetrators but also to think about preventative measures.
“We need to look to the future, see how we can strengthen our power grid and make sure our energy sources are protected,” he said, adding that the grid “cannot be as vulnerable as anyone. Anyone who knows how to disable the electrical system could come along and do it in a very short time.
As of Monday afternoon, about 38,000 homes and businesses remained without power, according to Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks. He said it could take until Thursday to restore power for everyone affected.
Authorities announced a mandatory countywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting Sunday evening, with Fields saying the decision was made to protect residents and businesses.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has also joined the investigation, officials said.
In the town of Southern Pines, a business owner has a generator and pancakes.
“We’re trying to help people who don’t really have an alternative,” Gerald Bateman, owner of Southern Pines Growler, told CNN.
With the help of volunteers, Bateman opens his business to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., he said. He also has to drive 50 to 70 miles every night to fetch fuel to run his company’s generators, he said.
“We see around 20 to 30 people per hour. People came in, got coffee, food and charged their phones,” Bateman said. “Several people also told me that they had to travel to other counties for food.”
All schools in the department are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The authorities opened a shelter powered by a generator.
Traffic lights are also off, and while a few stores with generators were able to open, several Moore County businesses and churches were closed on Sunday, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.
“We had just overcome Covid. And now this,” the sheriff said, adding, “This is going to hurt all of our restaurants and businesses.
Inside the houses, it has become difficult to protect oneself from the cold.
“We have a 6 month old baby at home. We have no more heat. We’re trying to get some heat for her,” Carthage resident Chris Thompson told WRAL.
Forecasters say temperatures will hit the mid-40s overnight. Tuesday afternoon temperatures will hit the lower 60 degrees, forecasters say. For the rest of the week, low temperatures will be in the mid 50s and afternoon highs will reach 70.
Carthage, the seat of Moore County, is about 45 miles northwest of Fayetteville and about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh. The county is also home to Pinehurst, a very popular golf destination.
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst is postponing some elective procedures and operating on a backup generator, the hospital said in a statement.
“The widespread outages are impacting outlying FirstHealth clinics in Moore County,” the statement said. “Primary care, internal medicine, family practice and practical care clinics in Moore County will be closed until power is restored,” hospital officials said.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the White House was closely monitoring “intentional vandalism” at the power plant and that hardening infrastructure against outside threats was a top priority, the report reported. CNN affiliate WTVD.
The estimated cost of damage to the substation is in the millions, the sheriff said Sunday.
The damage was extensive and rerouting power is not an option, said Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy.
“Equipment will need to be replaced,” Brooks said. “We are pursuing multiple restoration paths so that we can restore as many customers as possible as quickly as possible. Recognizing this, we are considering a fairly sophisticated repair with fairly large equipment. »
In addition to the gunfire damage to the substations, a door at one of the locations appears to have been pulled off its hinges, Asst. Chief Mike Cameron of the Southern Pines Fire and Rescue Department told CNN.
While it’s unclear what prompted the alleged vandalism, the sheriff on Sunday responded to rumors circulating on social media that the attack was an attempt to thwart a local drag show.
Fields said investigators “couldn’t connect anything to the drag show,” which was scheduled for the town of Southern Pines at 7 p.m. Saturday, around the time of the power outage.
The leader of the LGBTQ+ group that helped organize the drag show said on Monday she was unaware of any threats to the event before the attacks. Lauren Mathers, executive director of Sandhills PRIDE, told CNN they had received many “hateful comments” on social media, but nothing that could be considered a threat.
The house lights were off between numbers when the power went out, so they didn’t realize anything was wrong when the lights didn’t come back on, she said.
CNN National Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem said the fact that the shooting was “targeted enough to bring down two different facilities” likely led investigators to consider an “insider threat.”
“They will look into the possibility that there is either a casing or someone who knows the area, knows the facilities and knows exactly where to shoot,” she said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” “These are not driving incidents. These are the ones you are targeting directly.
According to John Miller, CNN’s chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, these incidents are similar to one more than nine years ago in California.
Sniper fire hit a Silicon Valley substation in April 2013, when 150 bullets from a rifle destroyed 17 transformers. The workers diverted the electricity in this case, but repairs to the transformers took almost a month.
After this incident, power companies and the government undertook a systemic review of network security and made changes to add more cameras and motion sensors, Miller said.