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FBI probes gun attack on North Carolina power grid

BBC News 05/12/2022
It could take until Thursday to restore power in Moore County, officials say © Reuters It could take until Thursday to restore power in Moore County, officials say

The FBI is investigating after two power stations were damaged by gunfire in North Carolina, plunging tens of thousands into darkness.

No motive or suspect has been announced since the attack on Saturday evening, but police say it was intentional.

Some 35,000 people in Moore County are without power and the damage could take several days to repair, officials say.

All schools in the county were closed on Monday, and a state of emergency has been declared.

The emergency declaration included a county-wide curfew from 21:00 on Sunday to 05:00 (10:00 GMT) on Monday.

"The person, or persons, who did this knew exactly what they were doing," Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a news conference on Sunday. "We don't have a clue why [they targeted] Moore County."

He said the FBI was working with local authorities to determine who was responsible, adding that someone pulled up and "opened fire on the substation, the same thing with the other one".

"It wasn't random," he said.

It could take until Thursday to restore power, officials say, as the damage to the two substations is significant. Around 45,000 people were initially affected by the outage.

"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," Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for the local energy company Duke Energy, said at the news conference.

Apparent bullet holes were seen at the damaged substations following the attack on Saturday evening © Reuters Apparent bullet holes were seen at the damaged substations following the attack on Saturday evening

A fire chief, Mike Cameron, said there were several road accidents when the power went out including a four-vehicle pile up. "The car wreck was totally because the stop lights were out," he told the Charlotte Observer newspaper.

A major hospital switched to using generator power, while water and sewage services are also running on back-up generators.

Temperatures hit a low of 32F (0C) on Monday morning, and the county opened an emergency shelter at a sports complex overnight on Sunday for those in need.

It is unclear how long schools in the county will remain closed, with officials saying decisions on openings will be made on a day-by-day basis.

While a suspect has not been identified and the motive in unclear, Sheriff Fields addressed social media rumours that the vandalism was an attempt to stop a drag show from taking place.

"[Investigators] have not been able to tie anything back to the drag show," he said. The event had been scheduled for 19:00 on Saturday, which is around the same time the power went out.

"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," State Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement.

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