Slowly, natural gas has been flowing back into southeast Manitoba communities affected by a weekend pipeline explosion, but some businesses say the damage has already been done from lack of gas for days.

About 4,000 natural gas customers lost their gas supply after a section of pipeline exploded at about 1 a.m. CT Saturday near Otterburne, 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Officials with TransCanada Pipelines are investigating the rupture and say they still don't know what caused it.

In the meantime, they have created a bypass to restore the gas service.

More than 100 contractors with TransCanada Pipelines, which owns the line, worked in shifts through the night Monday into Tuesday to excavate and remove the ruptured section and repair an adjacent line that was damaged.

Service has now been restored to people in Ste. Agathe, Niverville, New Bothwell, Kleefeld, Otterburne and Marchand — communities north of the damaged section of pipeline, according to Manitoba Hydro.

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​Hydro crews are going door-to-door in those communities to make sure gas is restored properly and relight pilot lights if needed.

People south of the rupture, in the Rural Municipality of De Salaberry — St. Malo, St. Pierre-Jolys, Grunthal and Dufrost — should expect to have their gas service back by Tuesday.

For three days after the blast, gas furnaces were not operational and the weather has been bone-chilling cold.

Overnight temperatures have dropped to –35 C and daytime highs have struggled to reach –20 C. But with the extreme wind chill values, it felt more like –45.

Many people have been finding other ways to keep warm, relying for the most part on electric heaters.

Schools remain closed

At least three schools planned to remain closed for Tuesday because they still didn’t have gas.

Pipeline burn

The last bit of gas burns off from the explosion site near Otterburn in this photo from the weekend. (Transportation Safety Board)

Manitoba Hydro has restricted the re-connection of the main gas supply to larger commercial buildings in a number of communities.

Officials want to be sure the gas lines can handle the demand, so some schools are still on a temporary gas supply.

École St.Malo School, École Héritage Immersion and Institute Collegial St. Pierre will all remain closed.

School officials said they would reassess on Tuesday, and reopening would depend on whether the main gas supply was back.

Bad for businesses

For some, there's been a big impact on their business.

Joe Gagne's family owns the St. Pierre-Jolys bakery and has had to tell his 17 employees not to come into work for the past three days.

"We can't pay them so all of my employees are all off.  I mean, they can't work because we don't have any work," he said.

“Our ovens and everything run with gas. So we can't do nothing. We can't bake anything."

Trevor Schriemer

Greenhouse operator Trevor Schriemer estimates he has spent $30,000 in extra heating bills since the gas service was lost. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Gagne says the bakery could lose up to $10,000 because it hasn’t been able to operate.

About 25 restaurants they supply will again be without bread and sweets today.

Ivan Balenovic, president and CEO of Bothwell Cheese, which is located in New Bothwell, said it's too early to say exactly how much the gas outage has cost him but it’s certainly “substantial.”

“We've had two down days that we're not going to be able to make up. The losses will be in the tens of thousands, for sure,” he said.

“We're having our CFO look at it and crunch the numbers right now to see where we're at.”

On the positive side of things, the extreme cold weather means his milk is lasting longer than it would otherwise.

Trevor Schriemer, who operates greenhouses in the area, estimates he has spent $30,000 in extra heating bills since the gas service was lost.

He has been using back-up diesel boilers, which he said are very expensive and labour intensive.

"I've had my son working in the boiler room for the last three days. No sleep. Just to maintain as much heat as we can coax out of the boilers," he said. "We don't get as much heat out of diesel as we get out of natural gas."

He said he would lose all his produce if his greenhouses go without heat for just half an hour.

Schriemer hopes to have his gas service back on tonight.