N.C. power outages investigated as ‘criminal occurrence’

Authorities were investigating widespread power outages in south-central North Carolina overnight as intentional criminal acts, the sheriff of Moore County said in a statement late Saturday.

An estimated 45,000 customers were without electricity late Saturday, with no estimate on a restoration time because a number of facilities are involved and the work will be complicated, said Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for utility Duke Energy.

Utility company Duke Energy said nearly 38,000 customers were without power in Moore County, while the Randolph Electric Membership Corporation reported outages affected nearly 3,000 customers in the county’s southern area, WRAL-TV reported.

Both Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields and Brooks report that the potential cause of the outages could be vandalism. Brooks said he could not further describe the nature of the possible crime.

Sewer lift stations were also out of order and authorities advised residents to stay off the roads. “There are multiple accidents that have occurred,” Southern Pines administration said in a statement on Facebook.

While typical outages in North Carolina are often resolved within an hour so, the late-night blackout for much of Moore County appeared to new territory for Duke and for law enforcement.

“The outages involve multiple substations that are affected,” Brooks said. “Until we understand the scope of the damage, we can’t yet estimate when power will be restored.”

He added, “Certainly, it’s a complex repair.”

The outages began about 7 p.m. in Moore County, the sheriff said.

“As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites,” Fields said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a field office of the FBI did not immediately respond to inquiries asking whether they were also investigation the outages.

Local authorities were out in force in communities affected by the outages. It wasn’t clear whether this was to dissuade looting, or as part of the investigation.

The Village of Pinehurst said additional police were on the streets overnight and urged residents to stay home.

“Officers have been called in to assist,” the village said in a statement. “Please stay off the roads if you can and treat all intersections as four way stops.”

Kurt Chirbas contributed.

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