CARTHAGE, N.C. (AP) — Tens of thousands of people braced for days without electricity in a North Carolina county where authorities say two power substations were shot up by one or more people with apparent criminal intent.
Across Moore County southwest of Raleigh on Monday, businesses handed out free food or coffee and businesses without internet conducted transactions in cash. One local economic official described the area known for its golf courses and local pottery as “eerily quiet” at a time of year when businesses are normally full of tourists and holiday shoppers. County schools were closed.
Traffic lights were out throughout the county. Drivers treated intersections as four-way stops, which caused some traffic in places such as downtown Carthage. A consistent hum of honks could be heard as people signaled to each other when they should go at each nonfunctional traffic light. Many local businesses and restaurants displayed “Closed” signs in the windows and had empty parking lots.
Kalai and Christine Balutski of Pinebluff sat under a heater Monday morning drinking warm beverages at the Red’s Corner food truck lot in Southern Pines. The couple has been without power since 7 p.m. Saturday and said they have been driving to restaurants in the next county over to eat warm meals and watch football while they wait for updates.
“We got two dogs at home, so we can’t just up and leave,” Kalai Balutski said. “We’re working off of a power brick to keep our phones charged and candles in one room to keep it warm enough to sleep.”
Bundled in a beanie, boots and a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, Christine Balutski said she has been struggling to get work done for her remote IT job for the hospital system without WiFi access at home.
The Pinehurst Resort & Country Club has also been affected by the outage. With limited power generation capability at The Carolina Hotel, the resort has consolidated all guests into rooms with available power. Golf courses remained open but the main clubhouse was closed.
Golf is played year-round in the Sandhills region and the Pinehurst resort is the No. 3 employer in Moore County — the largest only behind the local hospital and school systems, according to government employment data. Moore County generated a record in visitor spending in 2021, leading to an economic impact of $673 million from the tourism industry, the county’s economic development office said.
Moore County has dozens of golf courses, anchored by nine at the Pinehurst Resort. Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course has hosted three men’s U.S. Opens, with the next to come in 2024. The World Golf Hall of Fame is also moving soon from Florida to Pinehurst.
Meanwhile, federal, state and local authorities were undertaking a massive investigation of what’s being described as a serious attack on critical infrastructure. Utility officials said it could take until Thursday to restore all power.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said Sunday that authorities have not determined a motivation. He said someone pulled up, breached the substation gates and opened fire at the substations.
He also said the substations were targeted: “It wasn’t random.”
Roughly 35,000 electric customers in the county were without power Monday, down by several thousand from the peak of the outages, according to poweroutage.us. Temperatures dropped below freezing early Monday, and lows in the 40s were expected again later in the week.
About 20 people spent the night at an emergency shelter at the Moore County Sports Complex in Carthage, said Phil Harris, executive director of the local American Red Cross chapter. Harris, who’s managing a team of nine volunteers, said plenty more have stopped by for food, warmth or to charge their devices.
“If you’ve got no power, you probably don’t have any heat, so with winter weather coming in, it’s a nice place to stay,” Harris said.
Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said Sunday that multiple pieces of equipment were damaged and will have to be replaced. He said while the company is trying to restore power as quickly as possible, he braced customers for the potential of outages lasting days.
“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 that this will be a multiday restoration for most customers, extending potentially as long as Thursday,” Brooks said at the news conference.
The county of approximately 100,000 people lies about an hour’s drive southwest of Raleigh.
The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for the region’s tourism-dependent economy, said Linda Parsons, president of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce.
As they did during the pandemic, businesses that can’t open or lack foot traffic were getting creative with online sales. Some hardware and other stores are doing cash-only transactions, she said. Other businesses are offering free food to residents without power, such as the Southern Pines Growler, which gave out free coffee and pancakes Sunday.
“Our community has done an excellent job coming together … honestly, it’s quite heartwarming,” she said. “We’re making the best out of a bad situation.”
Andrew Wilkins, a conservation advocate who grew up in Moore County, was driving Saturday night from Washington to his parents’ small farm in Whispering Pines when he noticed the street lights were out in Carthage. He arrived to a “pitch black street” and little information about the cause or scope of the blackout.
“When the power was cut, the flow of information was cut too,” Wilkins told The Associated Press.
He spent the weekend helping his parents link a generator to their well for fresh drinking water and preparing them for cold nights without heat. Local grocery stores, such as Food Lion and Harris Teeter, have been distributing drinks, ice and pantry items to those who lost power, he said.
“Their home, like many rural homes, relies on a well for water for fresh, clean water, and it’s powered by electricity,” Wilkins said. “So when the power went out, the well stopped working, and when the well stops working, we slowly lose pressure until we lose water altogether. People are going to really feel the pinch from this as it goes on.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.