By most available accounts, the 100 mph winds of Hurricane Katrina and its accompanying storm surge inflicted unprecedented damage along Mississippi's Gulf Coast and claimed an unknown number of lives.

But the full extent of Katrina's blow may not be known for days because numerous small communities cannot yet communicate and many roads in the region are impassable. In addition, the flooding was so extensive that officials say they are having trouble locating bodies.

The state's governor, Haley Barbour (R), said there were "unconfirmed reports" of at least 80 deaths, including residents of an apartment building in Biloxi. While many questioned the numbers, there appeared little doubt that people died in the state.

Harrison County Emergency Management supervisor Connie Rockco told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger that three people died when trees fell on them or their homes. She said she had seen the bodies.

Biloxi Patrolman First Class Kerry Fountain, who was patrolling the east side of Biloxi inspecting damage and searching for people who did not survive the storm, said he had seen five bodies by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Some drowned or were trapped under heavy objects or in their attics, he said. "It's a tragedy. Bodies. Everybody's property is at other people's houses."

"I lost nearly everything. I don't have a house," Fountain said.

Barbour said, "We know that there is a lot of the coast that we have not been able to get to. . . . I hate to say it, but it looks like it is a very bad disaster in terms of human life."

As of about 11 a.m. EDT, there were at least 450,000 customers without power in the state.

With the lack of power and telephone communications, Biloxi residents got medical attention by sending friends or relatives to flag down the police. Fire Department Battalion Chief Kerry Borden said medical teams would fly in by helicopter Tuesday to set up three medical triage facilities to treat people injured in the storm or who had serious health ailments.

"We have limited hospital space," he said. He also pointed out that the city has no water supply right now. "That goes for the fire department as well. All the stations need water. We're in need of a lot."

The extent of the flooding made it especially difficult to find people and bodies.

The Biloxi Sun-Herald quoted Rockco, the Harrison County emergency manager, saying that "calls for help came throughout the storm, but emergency workers were powerless to help because of the winds and floodwaters. . . . There were people on roofs and in attics," calling for help.

The Sun-Herald said Interstate 90 in the area was buried under layers of sand, from a few inches deep to several feet deep.

The bridge from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi was destroyed, the paper said.

It quoted the Gulfport, Miss., fire chief estimating that 75 percent of the buildings in the county had major roof damage -- "if they have any roof left at all."

Also destroyed or damaged in the area were untold numbers of homes, three firehouses, a retirement home, a school, a courthouse and numerous businesses, not to mention the Jackson County emergency operations center, which had its roof blown off.

Fred Barbash reported from Washington.