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Natural gas outage affects 3,600 customers from Benson to Morris, Minn.

MINNEAPOLIS -- CenterPoint Energy is responding tonight to a natural gas outage affecting approximately 3,600 customers in the Cyrus area. The outage includes the towns of Benson, Hancock and Morris.

Crews are expected to work throughout the evening and weekend to restore service.

The outage was caused when a piece of farm equipment hit a Northern Natural Gas pipeline earlier today. Northern is CenterPoint Energy's natural gas supplier.

CenterPoint Energy has begun the process of turning off the flow of gas to each customer's natural gas meter, according to Scott Lehner, area manager for CenterPoint Energy.

Once the natural gas distribution lines are clear of air the company will begin the process of going meter to meter to restore gas service to each customer, he said.

Once the necessary repairs are made, the relighting process can begin.

This will require CenterPoint Energy employees to have access to each location to light pilots and check to make sure it is safe to resume service.

"For this reason, we'd like to ask that customers be at home if possible so our employees can go inside to restore natural gas service," said Lehner.

"A customer needs to call us only if there is a door hanger at their home or business indicating that we've already been by to attempt to restore service. Please call the number on the door tag left by our service personnel," he said.

The company is bringing in necessary resources from other parts of the state to respond to the outage.

Crews will continue working throughout the evening and the weekend. It's anticipated that service will be restored to the majority of customers this weekend if crews have access to relight indoor appliances, said Lehner

For safety reasons, the company urges customers not to turn any valves or tamper with the natural gas meter. Opening or turning any valves could allow air to enter the natural gas lines, which would hinder the re-pressurization process.

If someone smells natural gas inside or outside the home, they should follow these steps:

* Leave the area immediately and on foot.

* Don't do anything that could cause a spark (turning on lights, driving a car, etc.)

* Call CenterPoint Energy gas leak emergency-24-hours @ 1-800-296-9815 and 911 from a safe location.