Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Blast plant 'short of insurance'

Students clean debris at a home in West, Texas, that was damaged due to the explosion at a fertiliser plant on April 17 (AP)

The Texas fertiliser plant that exploded last month, killing 14 people, injuring more than 200 others and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to the surrounding area had only one million dollars (£640,000) in liability coverage, lawyers have said.

Randy Roberts said he and other lawyers who have filed lawsuits against West Fertiliser's owners were told on Thursday that the plant carried only 1 million dollars in liability insurance.

Brook Laskey, a lawyer hired by the plant's insurer to represent West Fertiliser Company, confirmed the amount on Saturday.

"The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we've seen from the fertiliser plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility," Mr Roberts said.

Roberts said he expects the plant's owner to ask a judge to divide the 1 million dollars in insurance money among the plaintiffs, several of whom he represents, and then file for bankruptcy.

He said he was not surprised that the plant was carrying such a small policy.

"It's rare for Texas to require insurance for any kind of hazardous activity," he said. "We have very little oversight of hazardous activities and even less regulation."

On April 17, a fire at the company, in West, a town 70 miles south of Dallas, was quickly followed by an earth-shaking explosion. It left a 90-foot wide crater and damaged homes, schools and nursing home within a 37-block blast zone. Among those killed were 10 members of the emergency services.

Investigators have not determined what caused the blast.

The plant had reported just months before the blast that it had the capacity to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, but it is not known how much was there at the time of the explosion.

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