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CenterPoint Energy is responding to a natural gas outage affecting approximately 3,600 customers in Benson, Hancock and Morris.

The outage was caused when a piece of farm equipment hit a Northern Natural Gas pipeline (Northern) 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," said Scott Lehner, area manager for CenterPoint Energy. "We will then work to ensure that the natural gas distribution lines are clear of air. Once the lines are clear, we will begin the process of going meter to meter to restore gas service to each customer."

Once Northern makes the necessary repairs, 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. 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," Lehner said.

"We realize this is an inconvenience," he added. "Fortunately, we are bringing in the necessary resources from other parts of the state to work as quickly and as safely as possible and anticipate restoring service to the majority of our customers this weekend - providing we have access to relight indoor appliances. We will continue working throughout the evening and the weekend until all customers are restored."

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.