Thousands of people are without electricity in North Carolina after an act of "intentional vandalism" caused a mass blackout, officials said.
Authorities said two power substations were knocked out after being shot at with firearms Saturday night, an incident that is under investigation as a "criminal occurrence." The substations were targeted, authorities said, but it remains unclear why.
It left more than 40,000 customers without power in Moore County on Sunday, according to outage-data-tracking site poweroutage.us, with temperatures expected to dip to near freezing overnight.
Power might not be restored until Thursday, according to a spokesperson for Duke Energy, the company whose substations were damaged.
Local schools will be closed Monday, and a mandatory curfew will be implemented between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., officials said Sunday afternoon. A local recreation center has been turned into a shelter.
Authorities have not yet identified any suspect in the incident and said they are looking into all possible leads. The FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation are assisting with the investigation.
The blackout began as a drag show that has been the target of a local right-wing group was taking place in the Moore County town of Southern Pines. Protesters, counterprotesters, and law enforcement gathered outside the venue Saturday night, the Pilot reported.
One of the group's founders posted a photo of the theater hosting the drag show after it lost power as well, writing, "The power is out in Moore County and I know why." Moore County deputies interviewed her, and Sheriff Ronnie Fields said in a press conference Sunday that "it turned out to be nothing."
He added that investigators are "absolutely" looking into whether the outage had anything to do with protests of the drag show. So far they have not found evidence tying it to that, and investigators are exploring “every avenue that we possibly can."
"Is it possible? Yes, anything is possible, but we have not been able to tie anything back to the drag show," Fields said.
Across the country, drag shows have increasingly faced threats of violence due to a growing wave of conservatives smearing LGBTQ people as "groomers." Numerous "drag queen story hours" at libraries have been interrupted with hate speech and, in at least one case, a man carrying a gun. Just two weeks ago, five people were fatally shot at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub the same night a drag performance had been scheduled to take place.
This isn't the first time electrical substations have been targeted with firearms. In February, three white supremacists pleaded guilty to a domestic terrorism plot to knock out power grids across the country by shooting rifles at them, which the Department of Justice described as an effort "to damage the economy and stoke division in our country."