© Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg via GettyThis file images shows Progress Energy Inc. powerlines lead from a substation in Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. Duke Energy Corp. was nearing an agreement to buy Progress Energy Inc. to form the largest U.S. utility.
A North Carolina sheriff and power company official said "intentional vandalism" at substations has caused outages for about 40,000 customers expected to last longer than 24 hours.

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields reported that the mass power outage across the county is being investigated "as a criminal occurrence," according to the sheriff's office's Facebook page.

Just after 7 p.m. on Saturday, several communities across Moore County began experiencing power outages. As utility companies began responding to the different substations, "evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites," the sheriff's office said.

Moore County sheriff's deputies and various other law enforcement agencies within the county responded to the different areas and are providing further site security, the sheriff's office added.

The post said anyone with information "about this act of violence" should contact the Moore County Sheriff's Office at 910-947-2931.

WRAL reported that power is not expected to be fully restored until 10 p.m. on Sunday.

Jeff Brooks, with Duke Energy, told WRAL crews are experiencing "multiple equipment failures" affecting substations in Moore County, which acts as a border between Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

"We are also investigating signs of potential vandalism related to the outages," Brooks said.

WRAL reported that a Duke Energy outage map Saturday evening showed 37,998 customers without power in Moore County. The Randolph Electric Membership Corporation also counted nearly 3,000 customers without power in the southern part of the county, according to the news station.

A Village of Pinehurst police alert instructed residents to stay off the roads or, if travel could not be avoided, to treat all intersections as four-way stops. Additional officers were called in to assist.