Early last year, BP officials circulated a planning document for 2005 that lamented safety shortfalls and identified the following "key risk" for the year: "TCS (Texas City site) kills someone in the next 12-18 months."Today, one year after the explosion damaged and ended so many lives, many of the survivors of the explosion as well as families of the victims are readying themselves for a court battle with the company.
Less than three weeks later, at 1:20 p.m. March 23, a massive explosion killed 15 people and injured scores more in the worst U.S. refinery accident in more than a decade.
While BP paid tens of millions of dollars each to the majority of the most serious victims — family members of loved ones killed and workers who were burned or lost limbs — shortly after the accident, scores of less-seriously injured people are still waiting for what they call justice.
Armed with the pre-explosion plan, which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle Wednesday, and thousands of other company documents they say point to longstanding safety concerns at the company — the victims are looking forward to their day in court with the oil behemoth.
Galveston County State District Judge Susan Criss recently gave them just that, setting the first trial date for Sept. 18. That's when the first batch of plaintiffs — eight of an estimated 500 remaining — will take their claims of widespread negligence against BP to a jury.
"They're the string-alongers," said Beaumont attorney Brent Coon, who is representing more than 100 people. Their injuries run the gamut, he said, from broken backs to injured knees and legs, to hearing loss.
Many, he said, have the added diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, the psychological fallout from "being at ground zero."
"It was like a war zone out there, seeing people running and screaming," he said.