AZ – Seven households in Oro Valley are still not allowed to return home, four days after a natural gas leak was discovered in their neighborhood.Southwest Gas officials say it could be a couple of weeks before some of those families can return to their houses.

The source of the leak – a broken pipe – has been repaired.But there’s still lingering natural gas in the ground.Aerators are pumping 24 hours a day to remove all traces of remaining gas.

“It’s been awful,” said Lisa Korpi, whose family has been forced to evacuate and stay in a rental home.”It has been really awful, with the kids in school, and trying to work.”

On Monday, a routine inspection by Southwest Gas company discovered the natural gas leak beneath the soil.”We don’t know how much gas was in the soil,” said Libby Howell, spokesperson for SW Gas.”We don’t know how long the line had been leaking.”

But neighbors suspect the leak had been there for years.

“We’ve been smelling something for about 3 years,” said Jose Montano, whose family also evacuated their home.The problem is that Montano and his neighbors didn’t realize it was natural gas they were smelling.They thought it was just sewage.

“One of my neighbors noticed the same smell, and they didn’t think anything of it either,” said Korpi.

Typically, Southwest Gas crews conduct routine leak inspections every five years in neighborhoods.Between inspections, they depend on home-owners to alert them to possible leaks.That’s why they inject the smell of rotten eggs into the gas line.

“Our customers always continue to be our best eyes and ears, and we treat all leaks seriously, we want to know about them right away,” Howell said.

In addition to a rotten egg smell, other signs of a possible natural gas leak include: standing water that bubbles, a hissing sound coming from the ground, and dead vegetation around a pipeline.

“All our vegetation in front of our home has died, and they’ve been dying for about the same time the smell has been around,” said Jose Montano.

Neighbors say it’s all starting to make sense.But they now have concerns about their health.Southwest Gas assures that their health isn’t at risk.”Natural gas is non-toxic, it’s not poisonous,” said Howell.”It is however, a fuel, so that means it’s combustible, so fire is always a concern for us.”

Knowing that now, neighbors call themselves lucky that they’ve dodged danger all this time.

“We’re just thankful our neighbors are safe,” Montano said.

If you detect a natural gas leak around your home, authorities advise you leave your house immediately.Do not flip any light switches, use the phone, strike a match, or turn any electrical appliances on or off — this could spark an explosion.Get to a neighbor’s house to call 911.