Power will be restored for most customers by Wednesday night after a “targeted” attack on two electric substations over the weekend caused widespread outages and shut down schools across one county in North Carolina, officials said Tuesday.
"With around 10,000 customers restored so far, Duke Energy anticipates having nearly all customers restored by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday in the aftermath of an attack on two major substations Saturday in Moore County," the utility tweeted.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, more than 34,000 utility customers in Moore County were still without power, according to Duke Energy's online outage tracker. The company serves a total of 47,018 in the county.
"Crews are working 24-hour shifts to make repairs and restore service to all impacted customers," the company said. "Several large and vital pieces of equipment were damaged in the event and need to be repaired or replaced."
Officials haven't been able to confirm if there were any fatalities resulting from the outage, but said they're investigating the death of one resident who lived in an area with no power.
"We do have one case where a citizen did pass away that we're trying, at this point in time, to validate if it was related to the power outage or just a normal medical condition," the county's Director of Public Safety, Bryan Phillips, said in a news conference on Tuesday. "But at this time I cannot confirm or deny that individual case."
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields says the situation is dangerous.
"It's very dangerous, we've had several accidents involved already due to power outages," he said. "We had some shots fired, we had robbery attempts."
The outages came after at least one suspect was alleged to have driven up to two Duke Energy power substations Saturday night and opened fire, disabling the substations and plunging tens of thousands of people into a blackout.
When asked how he was staying warm in the midst of the outage, one resident said "a lot of blankets."
Some have resorted to visiting one of the few grocery stores in the county with power for refuge.
"It's cold and I come over here a couple of times a day to get some hot food," one resident told NBC News.
In a news conference Monday evening, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the attack raises "a new level of threat."
"What happened here Saturday night was a criminal attack," Cooper said.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the attacks at the substations located in West End and Carthage, about 5 miles apart, appeared to be targeted, but a motive in the attacks remains unclear.
One theory, suggesting the outages may have been intended to shut down a drag performance that had faced backlash and protests, has continued to spread across social media.
On Monday, Fields said authorities had not ruled out a possible connection.
“We are looking at everything right now,” Fields said. “There’s absolutely nothing off the table. We’re investigating all leads."
"We have cooperation from federal and state law enforcement agencies that are assisting us with this and there’s no stone that we’re leaving unturned," he said, with the FBI and state investigators joining the inquiry to find out who was behind the attacks and why.
A state of emergency with a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was brought into affect in the county, with shelter arranged for those in need of electricity for medical devices or heating.
Schools, meanwhile, remained closed but hope to reopen for students on Friday if possible, Moore County Schools Superintendent Tim Locklair said at Tuesday's news conference.
The said an announcement would be made by 4 p.m. Tuesday on whether schools would remain closed on Wednesday.
In a statement Monday, Duke Energy said crews had restored power to thousands of customers since the two substations were attacked, but the company warned outages could continue for many until at least Thursday.
“We are restoring customers where possible, but the damage is beyond repair in some areas. That leaves us with no option but to replace large pieces of equipment — which is not an easy or quick task,” Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy’s general manager for emergency preparedness said in a statement.
The company explained that electric substations play an important role in getting electricity to customers, as they serve to "regulate voltage coming from generation sources (like power plants) — lowering it so energy can be delivered to homes and businesses."
The energy company asked that customers turn off appliances and other electrical devices that may have been on when the power went out so there will not be an immediate surge on the system once power is restored.
"Customers affected by outages should consider moving family members — especially those with special needs — to a safe, alternative location due to anticipated time required to fully restore service," the company said.
It added that it would continue to work with local, state and federal agencies on their ongoing investigation into the incident.