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Plant explosion trial to choose jury

Jury selection began Thursday in the first civil trial connected with the blast at a Texas City refinery.

More than 200 potential jurors gathered in a Galveston courtroom and answered questions from attorneys representing plaintiffs in five lawsuits that will be tried together.

"Inside the plant, it was hell on Earth," Brent Coon, who represents four of the plaintiffs, told the jury pool. "These workers were running for their lives. Most of the people out there were working folks like you and I and were not emotionally prepared for that type of catastrophe."

Originally, seven lawsuits were set to go to trial but two of them were settled before jury selection began Thursday.

BP spokesman Neil Chapman said the London-based oil company is working to settle all lawsuits filed as a result of the accident.

Currently, about 1,350 lawsuits have been settled. The blast has cost the company at least $2 billion (1.47 billion EUR) in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit.

The trial, if it proceeds, is expected to last up to two months.

The Texas City explosion occurred when part of the plant's isomerization unit, which boosts the level of octane in gasoline, overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons. A geyser-like release of flammable liquid and vapor ignited as the unit started up. Alarms and gauges that should have warned of the overfilling equipment failed to work at the plant about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Houston.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies that investigated the accident, found that BP fostered bad management at the plant. The CSB also said cost-cutting moves by BP were factors in the explosion.

An internal report by BP released in May said there were management failures from the isomerization unit all the way up to the refining and marketing segment of the company.

Jury selection was expected to take at least two days.