LIVINGSTON, La. (AP) _ Jury selection began today for a damage suit stemming from a fiery 1982 train derailment here, but nearly two-thirds of the 368 prospective jurors summoned failed to show up.

District Judge Gordon B. Causey spent about 30 minutes calling the names and finding that 208 hadn't made it to court. More than 50 others were excused or were living out of state, leaving 109 people to be examined by lawyers for Illinois Central Gulf Railroad and 3,000 Livingston-area residents.

The Livingston Parish residents are seeking damages from the Chicago-based railroad as a result of the Sept. 28, 1982, derailment.

More than 2,500 people had to evacuate their homes and businesses as the derailed cars, many carrying toxic or flammable chemicals, exploded and burned.

Residents were kept from their homes for nearly two weeks.

Although no cumulative total of damages is mentioned in the class-action suit, lawyers representing the Livingston residents have mentioned figures in the $20 million range.

Among the issues expected to be debated during the trial is whether the underground water table was contaminated outside the 12-acre derailment containment site.

One phase of the trial will deal with overall liability, while the other phase will look into the issue of individual damages the residents allegedly suffered, said one of the lawyers representing the townspeople.