The White House responded for the first time to power outages impacting Moore County, North Carolina, as tens of thousands of residents braced for several days without electricity after intentional gunfire at two substations over the weekend caused widespread blackouts.
Authorities so far have not revealed a potential motive for the multiple shots fired at the substations – and have yet to definitively say whether domestic terrorism is at play – though the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and state and local law enforcement and prosecutors are involved in the continuing investigation.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 30,000 customers were still in the dark. The sheriff’s office and hospitals were operating on backup generators, but Duke Energy officials say the damage to the substations were so severe that some parts need to be replaced, and equipment needs to be shipped in.
The White House publicly acknowledged the situation in Moore County on Monday, as National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said the administration was monitoring the intentional vandalism.
FBI JOINS PROBE INTO NORTH CAROLINA COUNTYWIDE BLACKOUT AS MOTIVE FOR GUNFIRE AT POWER SUBSTATIONS UNCLEAR
“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,” Kirby said, according to WTVD. “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.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was also briefed on the outages impacting residents in Moore County.
“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 in a statement emailed to Fox News Digital.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper hosted a press conference Monday afternoon to provide updates.
“What happened here Saturday night was a criminal attack. And federal, state and local law enforcement are actively working to bring those responsible to justice,” Cooper said. “While we are determined to keep people safe, we’re also deeply concerned about the small businesses that are losing out on valuable retail time right here before the holidays, as well as our school students who are missing valuable class time because of the closure of schools.”
Duke Energy said it was taking a closer look at security measures after the breaches at substations but declined to go into detail about whether security cameras captured the incidents.
“Protecting critical infrastructure like our power system must be a top priority. This kind of attack raises a new level of threat,” Cooper said. “We will be evaluating ways to work with our utility providers and our state and federal officials to make sure we harden our infrastructure where that’s necessary and work to prevent future damage.”
“I’m sure we will learn more about motives of this intentional act. An attack that damaged an entire community. Regardless of motive, violence and sabotage will not be tolerated,” the governor added.
Moore County schools were closed for students and staff for a second day on Tuesday. A state of emergency also remained in place and a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be in effect.
Cooper said maintaining support for facilities like adult care homes is a priority.
At the height of the outages that began Saturday night, about 45,000 customers were impacted. About 7,000 customers have since been restored, but the majority of the outages could extend until Wednesday into Thursday, Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy, said at the press conference on Monday.
Duke Energy made a $100,000 initial commitment to the Moore County community and is working with Red Cross and other groups, Brooks added. The damage is to the extent that the equipment had to be replaced.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields provided few updates on the investigation Monday, pointing the public to a tipline at (910) 947-4444 if anyone knows information about who’s responsible for the attacks.
He said the commander at Fort Bragg offered assistance with any investigative needs.
“The individual that’s done the damage knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields said.
On Sunday, Fields said he had no information that protests at a local drag show were linked to the gunfire at the two substations despite several social media posts claiming the events were connected.
“I’m always concerned about critical infrastructure, and I think we need to learn from this incident as to what we may need to do because these kinds of things cannot happen,” Cooper said Monday. “We cannot tolerate this type of wide power outage to so many people.”
The governor said amid increased security at substations while repairs are underway, critical infrastructure faces more than just physical threats after Saturday’s gunfire attacks.
“We know that our infrastructure is critical, and one of our areas of concentration lately has been cybersecurity,” Cooper said. “We know that massive damage could potentially be done by these cyber terrorists who are located worldwide.”
The emergency shelter opened in Carthage accommodated about 19 people Sunday night into Monday morning. It has the capacity to serve between 225 to 250 people.
Multiple fire and police stations across the county are open for residents to charge devices, use public Wi-Fi and get out of the cold. The grocery store Harris Teeter was also handing out water bottles and other supplies.
As power is out at intersections, several traffic accidents have been reported in the county.