Partial settlement reached in deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion

Investigators stand amid the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

(Reuters) - A partial settlement has been reached in the 2013 explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant that tore apart a section of the city, killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters, and caused an estimated $100 million in damages.

The deal was reached on Sunday and its terms have not been disclosed, McLennan County District Clerk Jon Gimbal said on Monday. The settlement includes the families of the three civilians killed in the fire and explosion.

Jurors who had been expected in court on Monday for the case were excused, the district clerk's office said on its website.

The Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper reported that jury selection in the trial of the first group of plaintiffs - families of three civilians who were killed - was scheduled to begin on Monday. A trial for a second group of plaintiffs is expected in early 2016, the newspaper said.

At least seven lawsuits had been filed against Adair Grain Inc, which owned the West Fertilizer Co facility. Plaintiffs claimed negligence by the plant employees and sought millions of dollars in claims. Four insurance companies were among those suing Adair Grain seeking to recover claims they are paying to individuals and businesses hurt in the explosion.

Between 40 and 60 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded 22 minutes after a fire broke out on April 17, 2013, at West Fertilizer, about 75 miles (120 kms) southwest of Dallas. The fire and explosion gutted a 50-unit apartment complex, demolished about 50 houses and battered a nursing home and several schools. Dozens more homes were reported damaged.

Most of the dead were emergency personnel who responded to the fire and likely were killed by the blast, which was so powerful it registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.

The 12 firefighters who died were unprepared for the ferocity of the fire, which was "significantly beyond the extinguishment stage" and should have focused on evacuating the area rather than putting out the blaze, a 2014 report from the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office said.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott and Doina Chiacu)