Firefighters and emergency workers in bright yellow jackets kneeled in the pews as the Rev. Boniface Onjefu recalled driving toward the fire after the explosion rattled his house.
"I stopped at the nursing home," Onjefu said. "I noticed a lot of people trapped. I assisted. I prayed with some and held the hands of some that needed comfort. I saw him in the eyes of everyone."
Said Onjefu, "God heard our prayers and prevented another tank from exploding."
Edi Botello, a senior at West High School, is Catholic but stood in a roadside pasture with friend Chelsea Hayes for the First Baptist Church service that drew more than 100 people. "We needed this," Botello said.
They wore gray "(hash)prayforwest" shirts that have become ubiquitous in the town. On the night of the explosion, Botello asked his mother if Hayes, who lived close to the plant, could come over. He said his mom still wonders what might have been if she had said no.
"Every time I close my eyes, all I can think about is the explosion," Botello said. "People running around. People evacuating. There was one point I couldn't even talk. I just stuttered."
Wendy Castro, a clerk at a nearby Wal-Mart, was among the first allowed back into her home, which sits on the outmost edge of the barricaded area. Broken windows and screen doors twisted off hinges is about the worst damage in her neighborhood.
The streets look like a bad storm rumbled through, not the deadliest fertilizer plant explosion since 31 were killed in Toulouse, France, in 2001. Dozens of homes close to the blast — some of which were leveled — may not be accessible to owners for another week or more.
Among the scorched buildings in the shadow of the plant were the town's high school and intermediate school.
Crawford said the track team probably would have been at the high school when the plant erupted if they hadn't stopped to eat on their way back from a meet. On Sunday, he checked on volunteers furnishing three portable classrooms trucked to the elementary campus. Starting Monday, the school that usually has 350 students will be crowded with twice that.
Crawford noticed the proximity of the schools to the fertilizer plant when he came down from Dallas to interview for the superintendent job. "A red flag went up," he said. Teachers are practiced in emergency drills and there's an evacuation plan on paper in the district office.
Had the explosion happened hours earlier, Crawford is certain it would have made no difference.
"We would have tried our best," Crawford said. "But I couldn't see us being successful. I don't have to describe to you in graphic detail what would have happened."
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber