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'Sabotage will not be tolerated': Motive remains unclear in Moore County power grid attack

ABC 11 Raleigh NC logo ABC 11 Raleigh NC 12/6/2022 WTVD

More than 30,000 Duke Energy customers spent a second straight day in Moore County without any power with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

The widespread power outage was caused Saturday night when someone intentionally opened fire and caused millions of dollars worth of damage to two of the county's power stations.

Law enforcement officials continued working the case hard late Monday night, including agents from the SBI. From listening to officials throughout the day, however, it doesn't appear -- at least publicly -- that they are any closer to finding whoever committed this attack.

Also late Monday, Duke Energy officials wouldn't share specific details of their response, saying they didn't want to reveal their security measures. However, a former FBI agent said he believes there are high-quality cameras at these substations that should tell investigators a lot.

Duke Energy did say that it has learned from other incidents such as one in 2013 in San Jose, California, when a sniper attack knocked out a substation and raised fears that the country's power grid was vulnerable to terrorism. Two former Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune were also part of a group of four charged in connection last year with a plot to damage a power grid somewhere in the northwest.

"I'm always concerned about critical infrastructure, and we certainly need to learn from this incident as to what we may need to do because these kinds of things cannot happen," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

In an update Monday afternoon, Cooper led a news conference with other officials. They did not reveal any new details about the motive behind the attack.

SEE ALSO: Drag artist vows to return to Moore County despite recent show ending early due to power grid attack

"I think investigators are leaving no stone unturned as to what this is. They are looking at every motivation that could possibly occur here and they want to find the perpetrator," Cooper said. "Regardless of motive, violence and sabotage will not be tolerated."

Cooper said the attack was being looked at as a case of domestic terrorism. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the attack was targeted and intentional.

"The individual that done the damage knew exactly what they were doing to cause the damage and cause the outage that they did," Fields said.

Multiple shots were fired at the two Duke Energy substations in Moore County on Saturday evening.

Jeff Brooks, the spokesman for Duke Energy, said crews have been able to make some repairs on-site and restore power to a few thousand people. But some of the damage is so extensive that replacement parts will have to be brought in and installed. That means the majority of people without power may have to wait until Wednesday or Thursday to have it restored.

Duke Energy's Monday afternoon update on Moore County power grid attack

Late Monday night, new images showed some of that new equipment arriving, meaning the county was one step closer to having power fully restored.

Cooper said Monday that this attack shows how valuable these power grids are and how they need to be protected.

"These kinds of things cannot happen. We cannot tolerate this type of wide power outage to so many people," Cooper said.

Fields said Homeland Security as well as the FBI are involved in the investigation.

National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby gave the first response from the White House on the "intentional vandalism" at the power station, saying the administration is monitoring it closely, and shoring up infrastructure against external threats is a major priority.

"We've obviously been monitoring this very, very closely and we're in contact with local officials. In fact, local officials and specifically local law enforcement are getting federal support on the investigation. So we're going to obviously let that investigation play out. I think we've heard the president talk about this many times. He's made critical infrastructure security and the resilience of that infrastructure, that regardless of whether it's from natural threats or manmade threats, he's made it a priority since the very, very beginning," Kirby said.

"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 wrote on Twitter.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was briefed on the power outages and a spokesperson said the department is coordinating with the FBI. The DHS infrastructure security agency CISA is also offering resources to Duke Energy, which is working to restore power.

"DHS will continue to share information with the FBI, and state and local authorities as the investigation unfolds. CISA leadership and regional teams have offered support to Duke Energy as they work to restore service," a DHS spokesperson said Monday.

While the motive of this attack has not been uncovered, some social media posts suggested the attack may have been a sort of protest against a drag show in the area. No credible evidence of that has been found.

Fields said the investigation has yet to uncover any evidence linking the vandalism to a Downtown Divas drag show in Southern Pines that sparked community protests. The drag show had been scheduled for Saturday night and was disrupted because of the blackout. The sheriff said his deputies are "absolutely" looking into that possible link.

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

Moore County Schools closed Monday and announced just before 4 p.m. that it would be closed Tuesday as well.

Until power is restored, Fields imposed a nightly curfew that starts at 9 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m.

Timeline: Targeted and intentional attacks cause large-scale Moore County power outage

It remains unclear exactly when the power will be restored. Brooks said the two electrical substations were severely damaged in the attacks and much of the equipment will have to be replaced.

Duke Energy officials say based on the damage some people in Moore County could be without power until Thursday.

"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 multiday restoration for most customers, extending potentially as long as Thursday," he said.

A shelter has been set up for people seeking refuge from the cold while the power remains out and local churches and other locations are providing food, water, places to shower and areas for charging electronics.

ABC News contributed to this report.


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