As the state reacts to a massive fertilizer plant explosion, Pope Francis and Bishop Joseph S. Vasquez of Austin have asked for prayers for the people of West, Texas and all those affected.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent a message to Bishop Vasquez, saying Pope Francis was "saddened" by the news of the destruction and sent his "heartfelt condolences" to the civil authorities and the affected families.

"He prays for the eternal rest of the victims and implores God's blessings of consolation and peace upon those who mourn and all who generously aid in the continuing work of relief," the cardinal said.

The Austin diocese said Thursday that Bishop Vasquez asks "that all people pray for the people of West."

The explosion Wednesday night at the West Fertilizer Company plant flattened parts of the town of West, killing five to 15 people and injuring at least 160. The explosion took place after efforts to battle a small fire on the plant premises.

The town of West has about 2,300 people and is about 20 miles north of Waco.

About 75 houses, several businesses and a 50-unit apartment complex were damaged. Rescue workers are still searching through the rubble for missing firefighters and survivors of the blast.

Evacuees include 133 residents of the West Rest Haven Nursing Home.    

The local Catholic church, St. Mary, Church of the Assumption Parish, is located along with its school about one mile from the plant and was not damaged in the blast. St. Mary's parish hall is being used as a command center for emergency responders.

The West community is predominantly Czech and mostly Catholic. The parish has 1,275 registered families and its pre-K-8 school has 136 students and 17 faculty members.

Priests of the Diocese of Austin visited area hospitals to administer the sacraments and to meet the spiritual needs of the injured and their families.

The American Red Cross will be providing disaster relief for the first 30 days after the incident. Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will begin to help those in need of assistance 31 days after the disaster, including help with long-term case management, providing furniture and household goods.

Bishop Vasquez will visit West on Friday and will celebrate a Mass on Sunday morning at St. Mary, Church of the Assumption in West. Catholic parishes of the diocese will take up a special collection for disaster victims.

Catholic Charities of Central Texas is accepting donations at its website