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Power may be back for thousands on Wednesday night as authorities continue to go through tips on electric substation attack

<i>Karl B DeBlaker/AP</i><br/>
Karl B DeBlaker/AP

By Steve Almasy, Jason Hanna and Amanda Musa, CNN

The tens of thousands of customers in central North Carolina who haven’t had power since two weekend attacks on utility substations should see the lights come on by late Wednesday, a spokesperson for Duke Energy said at a news conference.

The two substations in Moore County were damaged by gunfire Saturday night in what investigators believe were “intentional” and “targeted” attacks, officials have said, with Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields saying that whoever fired at the substations “knew exactly what they were doing.”

Duke Energy, which has has about 47,000 customers in Moore County, said it has made good progress since Saturday and moved up its restoration timeline by a day, saying it expects most customers to have power restored by late Wednesday.

“That will not happen all at once,” Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks said Tuesday afternoon. “You will see waves of customers coming on. A few thousand at a time.”

New equipment has been installed, but it needs to be calibrated and tested so that it works in sync with the grid, Brooks said.

About 35,000 customers in Moore County remained without power Tuesday afternoon, according to Brooks.

The mayor of Southern Pines, a town of about 15,900 residents situated in the county, called the attack a cruel and selfish act.

“There are so many people that are hurting,” Mayor Carol Haney said on CNN on Monday. The revenue stream has been stopped. If you have health issues, it is critical. It is just a horrible, horrible, terrorist, in my opinion, act.”

No suspects or motives have been announced.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Moore County Chief Deputy Richard Maness had no major updates about the investigation but said a tip line has been “very, very active” in the past 24 hours.

Tom McInnis, the North Carolina Senate Majority Whip whose district includes Moore County, told reporters he is looking at potential legislation to modernize penalties for this kind of incident, which he said is something that has never happened in North Carolina.

Pharmacist storing prescription medicines at home

The outages have made life difficult for residents. Schools will be closed through Thursday, four days with no classes. Businesses without generators are shuttered. Residents without power must leave their homes for hot food and to charge their electronic devices.

The owner of a Moore County pharmacy is storing medicines in his home, which is powered by a generator, so that people can continue to get their prescriptions, he said.

Rob Barrett, the owner of Whispering Pines Prescription Shoppe, believes he has enough gas to keep the generator running, but the pharmacy faces other issues: Some employees have no gas to get to work, and there are communication issues.

In rural areas of the county, the loss of electricity has also impacted the water supply to families.

“Rural communities rely on electricity a lot more than people realize,” Andrew Wilkins, whose parents own a farm in Whispering Pines, told CNN. “Many big cities don’t lose their water when the power goes out, but a lot of rural areas rely on a well for water.

“My family draws their water from a well, so when the power goes out, the well stops and the water pressure drops and we slowly lose water.”

Southern Pines, roughly a 40-mile drive northwest of Fayetteville and a 70-mile drive southwest of Raleigh, lost all power, according to Haney, the mayor. She said she had to get her 98-year-old mother out of the town and to Charlotte so she could be in a warm home.

With the power out, the town’s water and sewer system is operating on generator power, according to Southern Pines Fire and Rescue.

The town’s fire department has seen an increase in car crashes related to the lack of traffic lights, and more fires as people try to find alternate ways to heat their homes, Southern Pines Fire Chief Mike Cameron told CNN.

The fire department also is getting more medical calls from people using supplemental oxygen or other medical devices that require power, Cameron said.

FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst is running on a backup generator. However, the hospital is postponing certain elective procedures, and family medicine and other clinics in the country will be closed until power service is restored, hospital officials said in a news release Sunday.

‘A malicious, criminal attack on the entire community’

Investigators are “leaving no stone unturned to find out who did this,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday. FBI and state investigators have joined the investigation.

“This was a malicious, criminal attack on the entire community that plunged tens of thousands of people into darkness,” Cooper said.

“Our priorities now are health and safety, getting the power back on as quickly as possible, and making sure that federal, state and local law enforcement find out who did this, and why, and bring them to justice.”

Several communities across the county began experiencing power outages just after 7 p.m. Saturday, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said.

Whoever fired bullets at the substations “knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields, the county sheriff, said Sunday.

Fields on Sunday noted “no group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept they’re the ones who (did) it.”

Investigators were trying to determine whether both substations were fired at simultaneously, or one after the other, the sheriff said Monday.

A countywide mandatory curfew from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. has been in effect since Sunday night, with Fields saying the decision was made to protect residents and businesses.

Country needs to have a serious conversation about infrastructure protection, governor says

The governor stressed Tuesday that the state needs to learn from the incident, saying “this is unacceptable to have this many people without power for this long.”

“This is a retirement community, so there are a lot of adult care homes that do not have power,” Cooper told CNN on Tuesday. “We’re providing generators and help to make sure people are safe here.”

The country needs to have “a serious … conversation about protecting our critical infrastructure,” Cooper said.

“It was clear that (whoever is behind the gunfire) knew how to cause significant damage, and that they could do it at this substation, so we have to reassess the situation,” Cooper said.

Officials are not disclosing whether there were cameras at the two affected substations, because that is “part of the investigation that they do not want to reveal at this time,” Cooper said.

Less than two weeks before Saturday’s substation damage, the FBI said there had been an increase in reported threats to electric infrastructure from people who espouse “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideology.”

The FBI has received reports of threats to electric infrastructure by people espousing racially or ethnically motivated extremist ideology “to create civil disorder and inspire further violence,” the FBI said in a November 22 bulletin sent to private industry, which CNN obtained.

Though the motives for Saturday’s damage still are unclear, US officials have consistently been concerned by the interest violent extremists have shown in the country’s electric grid.

Cooper said Tuesday he was aware of the FBI warning.

“Matter of fact, we have worked to organize and step up our protection of our infrastructure, particularly in the area of cyber security. We know that those attacks can be massive and put down power or water or other infrastructure for a lot of people across the country, so we’ve been working on that,” Cooper said.

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CNN’s Nouran Salahieh, Amy Simonson, Sarah Boxer, Melissa Alonso, John Miller, Joe Sutton, Maureen Chowdhury, Jamiel Lynch Sean Lyngaas and Elise Hammond contributed to this report.

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