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Gunfire damages two power substations in a North Carolina county

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people are still navigating a massive power outage in central North Carolina. Authorities are investigating it as the result of a criminal act, saying that gunfire damaged two substations in Moore County on Saturday.

Reporter Jay Price of member station WUNC joins us now. Welcome.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi.

PRICE: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So residents there are looking at - what? - their third possible night without power at this point. How are people faring right now?

PRICE: Well, last night it was really cold - 29 degrees. It's warming up a little bit. Schools were closed today and will be again tomorrow. The county set up a shelter, but only about 20 people used it today - or last night. And at a police station in the county, I talked with Berlyn White. Police had set up a phone charging station, and she was there with her family.

BERLYN WHITE: It's been good so far, but then again, it's been hard 'cause I'm thinking about the children as well. My friends actually had a newborn baby yesterday. And just to think about how there are kids living with no heat, no power - there's hardly any stores open for food.

PRICE: And she said that she and her family got through the night with a lot of blankets. She said they might have to leave now to find a hotel. The community, though, had come together, she said - businesses handing out meals. And people just seemed to be looking out for each other more. So that was a plus.

And by the way, this area might be familiar to a lot of people around the country as the home to Pinehurst, a major golfing destination. It's hosted several U.S. Opens and has more scheduled. At least a few people were actually playing when I drove through this morning.

CHANG: Wow. Well, OK. So how are authorities now explaining exactly what happened here?

PRICE: The outages began Saturday night just after 7 o'clock. The sheriff, Ronnie Fields, said someone very deliberately - I mean, placing rounds - has shot up two different substations. And I talked with him this morning, and he said from that type of damage, it was clear whoever did it knew something about electrical transmission equipment.

RONNIE FIELDS: I don't want to give up anything in our investigation of where we at and which way we're going. So with that being said, yes, they had to have knowledge of what was there, absolutely.

PRICE: So the FBI has joined the investigation. The sheriff says they don't know the motive, but almost everyone I've talked with thinks there's a connection to protests Saturday over a drag show scheduled that night at a local theater. But we should stress there's absolutely no evidence that's been presented so far to connect the power outage and the drag show. As we know, there's been a rise in hate speech nationwide against the LGBTQ community with a focus on drag shows.

But Moore County sheriff's deputies did talk to one woman, who's a well-known local right-wing activist, and she's been very vocal about her opposition to the drag performance. After talking with her, though, the sheriff's deputies said she didn't have any credible information about the substation attacks or the motive.

CHANG: Well, any idea of timeline for when people can get power back?

PRICE: Well, they brought a few thousand customers back on overnight, but there are still almost 35,000 without power. A power company spokesman said today the repairs are pretty major and that most of those who are out right now could be without power until as late as Thursday. In the meantime, there's a curfew again this evening from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

CHANG: That is WUNC's Jay Price. Thank you, Jay.

PRICE: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jay Price is the military and veterans affairs reporter for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC.