Worker tells story of blast experience as BP trial continues

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jun. 24, 2008, 6:30am

GALVESTON - Jurors in the trial arising from the March 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City listened to testimony from a worker who was on the premises when the incident first occurred.

With the aid of an interpreter, 50-year-old scaffold builder Jose Verduzco took the stand June 19 to recount his experiences before, during, and after the blasts that killed 15 and injured more than 170. The current trial, now in its fifth week, is on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who claim to have sustained injuries from the explosion.

Verduzco, who works for Clute-based Miken Specialties Ltd, stated he was securing himself onto a lofty scaffold at one of the BP plant's easternmost units the afternoon of March 23 just as a loud boom emanated from a short distance.

"It was a very loud explosion, and all I could think about was how to get down from the scaffold," said the married father of three in Spanish, adding he was dressed in proper safety attire.

Fighting back tears, Verduzco recalled his hurried escape from the blast zone.

"I kept on running," he said. "All I wanted to do was get to the street and look to see where the explosion took place. I got to the street, looked to my right, and saw flames and lots of smoke."

Verduzco feared a fiery chain reaction might start.

The incident left him with an injured back and severe pain in other parts of his body. He also showed the Galveston County District Court a pair of hearing aids.

His mental health was also negatively affected as he would occasionally snap at his family, said Verduzco.

Jurors learned Verduzco visited a number of physicians although he did not see his first doctor until some six months after the explosion.

Verduzco reasoned he feared losing his job therefore he did not seek medical attention immediately.

Although BP admits culpability in the incident, it believes the event cannot be fully responsible for the reported injuries.

An article in the Houston Chronicle reported that lawyers for both sides stated 62 suits remained as of Monday, down from 79 on Friday.

Negotiations between the plaintiffs and the petroleum company are in progress as the current trial is being heard in 212th District Court.

At five weeks, this is the longest an explosion-related civil trial has lasted.

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