County prosecutors in Wichita Falls, Tex., took aim yesterday at price gougers preying on residents battered by last week's tornado that killed 44 and razed a fifth of the north-central Texas city.

County Attorney Tom Schrandt said he had received reports of a loaf of bread and a package of bologna selling for $6.50, of gasoline priced at $1.50 a gallon, and the rent for a four-bedroom house skyrocketing from $450 a month to $800-with a $1,000 deposit required.

"It would surprise me if there are less than 500 of these cases," Schrandt said of the price-gougers. He said he will prosecute anyone who violates Wichita Falls' price-freeze ordinance and will take them to state court. The ordinance was passed by the City Council last week and forbids raising the prices of living essentials or housing.

In New York, meanwhile, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute predicted the tornadoes that swept the Wichita Falls area will cost insurance companies nearly $250 million in damage claims, making it one of the worst disasters in the history of casualty insurance.

More than 100 insurance companies, including some of the largest in the nation, are being affected, said the sokesman for the industry's information organization.

He said preliminary estimates put losses in Wichita Falls alone at $200 million, with $6 million in losses estimated at nearby Vernon, Tex., and $13 million at Lawton, Okla.