A mass power outage in North Carolina is being investigated as an incident or multiple incidents of vandalism as more than 42,000 customers are left without power. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Nearly 40,000 customers were still without power in North Carolina on Sunday night, after an apparent incident of vandalism involving the use of a firearm cut power a night prior in Moore County.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said "extensive damage" was found at a Moore County substation.
"Evidence at the scene showed that the firearm had been used to disable the equipment," he said during a press conference on Sunday.
Fields said officials from the 11 municipalities affected have created a plan for the "next few nights" as the power outage may continue beyond Sunday. The plan includes the implementation of a countywide curfew starting Sunday night at 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. EST.
The outage continued Sunday with officials investigating the incident as a "criminal occurrence" according to the Moore County Sheriff's Office.
"As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites," the department posted on its Facebook page.
The sheriff's office said the outage was reported at about 7 p.m. EST Saturday. There are multiple agencies responding throughout the county and securing the site of the alleged vandalism. Gov. Roy Cooper said state law enforcement is joining the investigation and the state "will provide support as needed."
"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," Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement Sunday.
The total number of outages in North Carolina at 10 p.m. was 37,017, according to Poweroutages.us.
There are more than 33,500 Duke Energy customers still without power.
"I can promise you, to the perpetrators out there, we will find you," Fields said.
Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks said there are multiple failures across multiple substations in the area of the outage, according to CBS 17 Raleigh. He confirmed the company is investigating incidents of vandalism.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-NC, said the FBI has been involved in the investigation as he thanked law enforcement officials for their response to the incident.
"Last night, unknown individuals vandalized at least two substations in Moore County with criminal intent. Motive for this crime remains unknown."
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, located in the village of Pinehurst and series 15 counties in the region, said it remained open and was operating on backup generator power.
"We are comfortable and confident that we can maintain backup power as needed to continue to serve our patients," it said in a statement, adding that primary care and convenient care clinics in Moore County will be closed until power has been restored.
Some elective procedures will also be postponed, it said, adding that staff is working to contact affected patients.
All Moore County schools will be closed Monday.
Meanwhile, local grocery Harris Teeter said in a statement that it will be distributing free bas of ice to those affected by the power outage.
Chief Nick Polidori of the Southern Pines Police Department said they have opened their community room for people to charge their electronic devices while they wait for power to be restored. County manager Wayne Vest said the facility can accommodate more than 200 people at a time.
Duke Energy is based in Charlotte, N.C., and has about 8.2 million customers across the six states it serves.
Moore County is located in central North Carolina northwest of Fayetteville.