By | March 2, 2018

Staff Photographer

This story is being continuously updated.

Six days after a deadly gas explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl, Atmos Energy shut off service Thursday to 2,800 homes for up to three weeks to completely replace the lines.

Residents can stay in their homes while the work is done, but they will have to make do without natural gas.

Atmos officials said the company decided to replace its systems after a geological expert determined that replacing the lines would be the most effective solution."

"Over the last 24 hours, as we continued to try and stabilize this system, we reached the conclusion … that we would take the step of shutting down this system," said John Paris, Atmos Mid-Tex Division president.

Service was cut off at noon from Walnut Hill to the north, Webb Chapel Road to the west, West Northwest Highway to the south and Lakemont Drive to the east.

This time, residents in the newly expanded area won’t be required to evacuate. Evacuations were ordered in the area after Linda Rogers, a 12-year-old known as Michellita, died Feb. 23 after an explosion blew her home on Espanola Drive off its foundation and collapsed the roof.

Atmos officials blamed recent rains for last week’s accident, saying it shifted the soil and caused leaks in the system. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the explosion.

"Due to sudden and unexplained leaks on our system, during the extraordinary rains in North Texas, we have implemented continuous survey patrols in this area," said Kevin Akers, Atmos’ senior vice president safety and enterprise services. "We are replacing our entire natural gas distribution system, including mains and service lines with the state-of-the-art materials."

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It’s unclear what kind of pipes are used in the neighborhood. Sonny Friedman, the owner of Atlas Plumbing, which regularly works in the affected neighborhood, said the homes most likely have steel pipes that need to be replaced with plastic.

Friedman says the evacuated homes were built 60 to 80 years ago and most likely haven’t been updated with plastic pipes

Steel is "attacked by the elements in the soil," he said. "These are old homes. Kind of likes the tires on your car, nothing lasts forever."

Just spoke to Dallas ISD. They say they’re currently reviewing the information that Atmos provided to them this morning regarding Foster Elementary. District administrators are meeting now to figure out any logistical plans / changes on their end while the gas is off.

Friedman said soil packed around steel pipes could have previously prevented the gas from escaping through cracks. But the recent downpours have shifted the soil, causing the pipes to move, as well.

“Most gas repair job we’ve worked come after a heavy rain shifts the ground and the pipes have already rusted,” said Friedman, a plumber for 50 years. “We’ve had so much water in the soil — and this type of soil has a lot of clay and it expands” when it rains and contracts when it’s dry.

Friedman said the best way to determine what kind of pipes you have and if there is a problem is to have a plumber look at the pipes. But not would recommend it because of the cost. Depending on the size of your home, it can cost $300 to $500.

“Nobody likes to do it because it’s expensive.”

Linda Rogers, 12, was killed in a house explosion Feb. 23 in northwest Dallas.

"Prior to this weather event, the pipes there were all operational as designed," Kevin Akers, Atmos Energy’s senior vice president safety & enterprise services.

Crews will work round-the-clock seven days a week to complete replacement and repairs, officials said. More than 120 crews will be part of the workforce.

Atmos said they plan to compensate the residents affected and won’t charge homeowners for the repairs.

"We will hold them accountable and make sure they live up to those promises," Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said.

Anyone with questions can contact the utility company at 972-964-4191 and check alerts online.

Officials will also hold information sessions at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center, 10011 Midway Road, and Bachman Lake Branch Library, 9480 Webb Chapel Road.

One elementary school in the area, Stephen C. Foster Elementary, will be given a tank so it can continue to receive gas, Atmos officials said. The school was evacuated along with the rest of the neighborhood when the explosion occurred last week.

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