Tens of thousands in North Carolina without power after substations hit with gunfire

Two power substations in a North Carolina county were damaged by gunfire in what is being investigated as a criminal act. It caused damage that could take days to repair, leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity, authorities said Sunday.

Police say shooting being investigated as criminal act

Gerardo Anicero warms himself in front of a makeshift fire as he watches Duke Energy personnel work to restore power at an electrical substation that the workers said was hit by gunfire and caused a mass power outage in Carthage, N.C., on Sunday. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Two power substations in a North Carolina county were damaged by gunfire in what is being investigated as a criminal act, causing damage that could take days to repair and leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity, authorities said Sunday.

In response to ongoing outages, which began just after 7 p.m. local time Saturday across Moore County, officials announced a state of emergency that included a curfew from 9 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday. Also, county schools will be closed Monday.

"An attack like this on critical infrastructure is a serious, intentional crime and I expect state and federal authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice," Gov. Roy Cooper wrote on Twitter.

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a Sunday news conference that authorities have not determined a motivation. He said someone pulled up and "opened fire on the substation, the same thing with the other one."

"No group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept that they're the ones that done it," Fields said He added that they're "looking at all avenues."

Duke Energy workers inspect what the company says is a bullet hole at an affected electrical substation in Carthage on Sunday. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The sheriff noted that the FBI was working with state investigators to determine who was responsible. He also said "it was targeted."

"It wasn't random," Fields said.

Fields said law enforcement is providing security at the substations and for businesses overnight.

"We will have folks out there tonight around the clock," Fields said.

Cold temperatures

Roughly 36,000 electric customers in the county were without power on Sunday evening, according to

With cold temperatures forecast for Sunday night, the county also opened a shelter at a sports complex in Carthage, N.C.

Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks said multiple pieces of equipment were damaged and will have to be replaced. He said while the company is trying to restore power as quickly as possible, he braced customers for the potential of outages lasting days.

"We are looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment and 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," Brooks said at the news conference.

Dr. Tim Locklear, the county's school superintendent, announced classes will be cancelled Monday.

"As we move forward, we'll be taking it day by day in making those decisions," Locklear said.

The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, N.C., reported that one of its journalists saw a gate to one of the substations had been damaged and was lying in an access road.

"A pole holding up the gate had clearly been snapped off where it meets the ground. The substation's infrastructure was heavily damaged," the newspaper reported.

The county of approximately 100,000 people lies about an hour's drive southwest of state capital Raleigh and is known for golf resorts in Pinehurst and other communities.

Duke Energy personnel work to restore power at a crippled electrical substation on Sunday in Carthage, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Andrew Wilkins, a conservation advocate who grew up in Moore County, was driving Saturday night from Washington to his parents' small farm in Whispering Pines when he noticed all the street lights were out in the county seat of Carthage. He arrived to a "pitch-black street" and little information about the cause or scope of the blackout.

Wilkins spent the weekend helping his parents link a generator to their well for fresh drinking water and preparing them for cold nights without heat.

"Their home, like many rural homes, relies on a well for fresh, clean water, and it's powered by electricity," Wilkins said. "So when the power went out, the well stopped working, and when the well stops working, we slowly lose pressure until we lose water altogether. People are going to really feel the pinch from this as it goes on."

Local grocery stores, such as Food Lion and Harris Teeter, have been distributing drinks, ice and pantry items to those who lost power, he said.

Grid seen as a target for extremists

While the motive for an attack is unclear, a report issued earlier this year from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis warned that domestic extremists "have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020."

The report warns that extremists "adhering to a range of ideologies will likely continue to plot and encourage physical attacks against electrical infrastructure."

The grid is viewed as a target, based on a series of incidents in recent years as well as online discussions in extremist and conspiracy-minded forums, because transmission lines and substations are often in remote areas and because outages could sow divisions.

The report mentioned four suspected extremists who were accused in October 2020 of a plot to damage transformers in Idaho and nearby states and the arrest in May 2020 of three alleged militia extremists, tied to the antigovernment Boogaloo movement, who were charged in a conspiracy to attack an electrical substation in Las Vegas

Additional plots related to power grids have led to convictions in 2015 and earlier this year.

In 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered grid operators to increase security following a sniper attack on the Pacific Gas & Electric Company's Metcalf Transmission Substation in an isolated area near Metcalf, Calif., southeast of San Jose. No arrests have been made in that assault, which stunned authorities and caused billions in damages.