North Carolina investigators were hunting for at least one suspect after two electrical substations were “targeted” in an “intentional, willful, and malicious act” on Saturday evening, with damage so extensive to both facilities that at least 40,000 customers were warned to brace for possible outages until Thursday.
Officials speaking at a Sunday afternoon press conference announced a county-wide state of emergency, establishing a 9 p.m. curfew to protect affected residents, who were advised to stay home or seek shelter at a local sports complex.
“It’s going to be very, very, very dark,” state Sen. Tom McInnis (R) said, explaining the reason for the curfew. “… It’s going to be chilly tonight.”
Calling it “a very serious situation,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said that local, state, and federal officials, including FBI agents, were coordinating their response to what he’d previously characterized as a “criminal occurrence,” adding on Sunday that he’d never experienced anything like it in his four decades in law enforcement.
“Folks, we’re living in some challenging times,” Fields said.
The sheriff confirmed that firearms had been involved in the attacks. “They pulled up—somebody did—and opened fire on the substation,” he said, describing the first of two near-identical incidents. He was unable to comment on a possible motive, or whether the assaults rose above vandalism, saying it was up to federal investigators to decide what constitutes domestic terrorism.
Fields also said that deputies had ruled out Emily Grace Rainey—a local conservative activist who’d written cryptically about the power outages after they occurred—as a suspect after visiting her home. Rainey, who’d organized a protest against a local drag show this weekend, had written on Facebook that “the power is out in Moore County and I know why.” Two hours later, she posted that she had been visited by law enforcement officers, and she was “sorry they wasted their time.”
Rainey’s posts “turned out to be nothing,” according to Fields. When asked by a reporter how deputies had determined that, the sheriff answered, “We, uh, did law enforcement.” No links between the drag show and the substation attacks had been established as of Sunday, he added.
“We faced something last night here in Moore County that we’ve never faced before, but I promised you we’re gonna get through this, and we’re gonna get through this together,” Fields said.
A spokesman for Duke Energy, Jeff Brooks, said that the agency was “pursuing multiple paths of restoration” and “looking at some pretty sophisticated repairs” after multiple pieces of equipment in both substations were damaged in the attacks. Some pieces would need to be replaced entirely, meaning a “multi-day restoration for most customers,” he added.
In the minutes before the press conference, Moore County Schools announced on Facebook that all schools would be closed on Monday, promising more information to come on the week ahead in the near future.
Moore County Manager Wayne Vest called the events of the weekend “unprecedented” locally. “But we are strong, and we are resilient,” he added. “Our number one focus right now is getting our citizens back their power.”
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