By Whitney Wild, Aileen Graef and Nouran Salahieh, CNN
Without heating or electricity for medical equipment, some North Carolina residents are staying at a shelter as crews rush to get power back on after what the state’s governor has described as “malicious” attacks on substations that plunged tens of thousands into darkness.
Power in Moore County is expected to be restored by late Wednesday, Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks announced Tuesday.
But for now, schools are closed through Thursday, many stores and restaurants have shuttered, homes are without heating or running refrigerators, drivers are traversing intersections with no traffic lights, and a county-wide 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is still in place.
A Red Cross-run emergency shelter was set up at the Moore County Sports Complex to help provide shelter, food, showers and other services to those impacted.
Nakasha Jackson, who came to the shelter to pick up some hot food, said the outage has been difficult with her 1-year-old child.
“No lights, no power, can’t really do nothing. The kid is scared of the dark,” she told CNN.
Jackson said sometimes she has to travel up to an hour one way to buy food. “It’s ridiculous. It should never have been done,” Jackson said.
About 35,000 customers in Moore County remained without power Tuesday afternoon, according to Duke Energy.
Residents who rely on electricity-powered medical equipment have also seen their lives upended. One woman told CNN she came to the shelter because she had no power for her CPAP machine at night.
After two days of sleeping without it, she said she began to feel ill and came into the shelter for help.
Others have sought shelter fearing for their safety as they struggled to keep their homes warm. Amber Sampson and her fiancée came to the shelter because they “feel like it’s safer.”
“It’s different. It’s kind of hard to sleep, you know. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be somewhere where it’s warm, where we have food, where we’re taken care of than to be somewhere it’s freezing cold,” Sampson said.
On top of having to stay at the shelter, Sampson hasn’t been able to work since Sunday after her employer also lost power — an issue that could end up costing her hundreds of dollars.
The widespread and costly power outage in Moore County began Saturday evening and has stretched on for days after two substations were damaged by gunfire, initially knocking out power to more than 40,000 customers. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields has said whoever fired multiple rounds at the substations “knew exactly what they were doing.”
Authorities have expressed anger over the suspected attacks, with Carol Haney, mayor of Southern Pines — a town of about 15,900 residents that completely lost power — calling it a cruel and selfish act.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper voiced concern over businesses and residents in nursing homes.
“When we look at all the money that’s being lost by businesses here at Christmas time, when we look at threats to people in nursing homes having lost power, hospitals having to run off generators and not being able to do certain kinds of operations at this point — all of those are deep concerns here, and we can’t let this happen,” the governor said.
“This was a malicious, criminal attack on the entire community,” Cooper told CNN Tuesday.
Power may be back for thousands Wednesday
Duke Energy, which has about 47,000 customers in Moore County, has made “significant progress” since Saturday, Brooks said, and expects most customers to have power restored by Wednesday, just before midnight.
“That will not happen all at once,” Brooks added. “You will see waves of customers coming on. A few thousand at a time.”
Brooks has said from the start that restoring power will be no easy task, since the gunfire damaged some equipment beyond repair.
“This is a very complicated process that involves equipment that has been moved into place to install,” Brooks said at a Tuesday news conference. “It’s there but now we’re going through the process of calibrating and testing it and preparing it to synchronize with the electric grid, which is a very complex process.”
Meanwhile, 2,600 Randolph Electric customers in the northern part of Moore County have been impacted by the attacks, according to Randolph Electric CEO, Dale Lambert.
Randolph Electric is also working to restore power to impacted customers.
Governor: We need to protect critical infrastructure
Cooper told CNN the state needs to learn from the incident and have a serious conversation about protecting critical infrastructure.
“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.
Brooks, the Duke Energy spokesperson, said it’s up to investigators to determine whether the person or persons responsible for the outage knew how to cause widespread damage to the system.
“They hit the locations that created the outage so take that for what it’s worth,” Brooks added.
No suspects or motives have been announced.
“There’s a deep concern in this community about who would do such a thing and why they would do it,” the governor said.
The sheriff previously 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.
It’s also unclear whether there were any cameras in the area when the substations were shot at. “That is something that’s part of the investigation,” Cooper told CNN.
“If someone with a firearm can do this much damage and get power out to tens of thousands of people, then obviously we need to look at the different layers of infrastructure and hardening and make better decisions here,” Cooper said.
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CNN’s Amanda Musa, Amy Simonson, Sarah B. Boxer and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.