A widespread blackout that hit a county in central North Carolina on Saturday is being investigated as a possible crime, authorities said.
The power outages — which left at least 40,000 customers without electricity and rendered wastewater pumps out of order across the area — may have been caused by "intentional vandalism" that damaged "multiple" electric substations, according to the Moore County Sheriff's Office.
In an announcement attributed to Ronnie Fields, the county sheriff, the office confirmed that "the mass power outage across the county is being investigated as a criminal occurrence" late on Saturday night. The announcement came hours after Moore County residents began to report power outages around 7 p.m., according to the sheriff's office.
"As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites," the office said, noting that "Moore County Sheriff's Deputies and various other law enforcement agencies within the county responded to the different areas and are providing further site security."
Police are asking anyone with information about the alleged incident, which the sheriff's office described as an "act of violence," to contact them.
Power had not been restored in Moore County as of Sunday morning, when Duke Energy and Randolph Electric Membership Corporation, two power companies that service the area, continued to report about 37,000 and 3,000 outages, respectively. The number of reported outages roughly equates to the number of households in Moore County, according to census data.
The outages also affected the county's sewer lift stations, and the town of Southern Pines urged people to refrain from driving as "multiple accidents" had already occurred during the first few hours of the blackout.
"[W]e'd like to let you know that our sewer lift stations are currently down due to the widespread power outage in Moore County. Please limit your water and sewer usage to what is absolutely necessary until these stations are operational again," the town wrote in a statement shared to Facebook.
"We also advise staying off the roads if you are in a safe location," the statement continued. "There are multiple accidents that have occurred."
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