(WASHINGTON) — Vandals are suspected of causing a major power outage across a North Carolina county that plunged about 45,000 customers into darkness amid freezing temperatures, according to authorities.
Evidence of sabotage was found at multiple electrical substations following the massive blackout Saturday night, prompting the Moore County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the incident as a “criminal occurrence.”
The power outages began at about 7 p.m. Saturday, and thousands of Duke Energy customers remained without electricity on Sunday after enduring freezing temperatures overnight.
“As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
No arrests have been announced.
Duke Energy officials said utility crews are working to restore power by 10 p.m. Sunday. Several law enforcement agencies in Moore County were providing security as crews worked to repair the damage.
A spokesperson for Duke Energy told ABC News the outages are likely to extend beyond Sunday as crews work to fix what were described as “indications of public interference and vandalism.”
The sheriff’s office has scheduled a news conference for Sunday afternoon to update the public.
Mike Cameron, Southern Pines’ assistant town manager and fire chief, told the Raleigh News and Observer that Duke Energy officials informed him that two substations were hit with gunfire.
“Everything that I’m understanding is that it’s not an accidental cause,” Cameron told the newspaper.
Cameron said several vehicle accidents were being blamed on the power outage, including a multiple car crash that injured several people at an intersection in Southern Pines.
“The car wreck was totally because the stop lights were out,” Cameron told the News and Observer.
Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, North Carolina, also lost power and was forced to switch to its backup generator, officials said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Twitter post that he has spoken with Duke Energy and state law enforcement officials about the crisis.
“They are investigating and working to return electricity to those impacted. The state is providing support as needed,” Cooper said.
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