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Suspected vandals leave thousands in the dark in North Carolina

By Rich McKay

Dec 4 (Reuters) - Vandalism may have caused a mass power outage in a Central North Carolina county, leaving about 45,000 homes and businesses in the dark Saturday night into early Sunday, affecting everything from Sunday worship services to golfers teeing off at well-known Pinehurst Resort.

Outages began around 7 p.m. Saturday, and utility workers found evidence at multiple electric substations that "indicated intentional vandalism had occurred," Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said in a statement.

About 64% of Moore County's electric customers remained without power on Sunday morning in the largely rural area about 90 miles (145 km) east of Charlotte, according to tracking site poweroutage.us.

Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, told the media late Saturday that there was "no estimate on restoration time because a number of facilities are involved and the work will be complicated."

Neither Brooks nor another representative for Duke Energy was immediately available for comment on Sunday. But Brooks told NBC News that he could not further describe the nature of the possible crime.

In Pinehurst, the county's largest community of about 20,000 residents, church was canceled at the Pinehurst United Methodist Church, which holds three services every Sunday.

"Read your Bible, pray...and stay safe," church leaders posted on its Facebook, leaving open whether its Christmas concert would go on in the late afternoon.

At its famed golf Course, Pinehurst Resort, an operator said that managers were "scrambling" to see make sure patrons with reservations could still tee-off in the morning. (Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)