Beach Complex Deaths a Painful Lesson for Survivors

With Hurricane Katrina having killed some 30 people at a beachside apartment complex here, some residents today have a newfound respect for nature and its deadly power.

As residents of the Gulf Coast begin to recover from Katrina, Mississippi appears to be the hardest hit. Gov. Haley Barbour has said there were unconfirmed reports that at least 80 people died in Harrison County alone, which includes Gulfport and Biloxi. The death toll was expected to rise as rescuers reached the hardest-hit and most-difficult-to-reach regions in the coming days.

Late Monday night, state rescue authorities said approximately 30 people were found dead at the Quiet Water Beach apartments, which collapsed under a 22-foot water surge from Katrina. Some residents chose to stay in their homes and attempt to ride out Katrina's fury instead of heeding state officials' warnings to evacuate.

One official said they paid for it with their lives.

"The major tragedy is that a lot of the deaths were preventable," said Jim Pollard, spokesman for the Harrison County emergency operations center. "But we're certainly grateful for the cooperation we did get."

Authorities said three other people were killed by falling trees and two died in a traffic accident in Alabama. Residents were told to go inland to places like Meridien, Miss., and to seek shelter, and people there survived Katrina. However, some people there have been amazed at the damage the storm inflicted as they surveyed the remains of Victorian homes destroyed by fallen trees.

'I Was in a War Zone'

As authorities assess the damage and try to rescue those stranded and to recover the dead, Katrina's path is evident.

All along the Biloxi waterfront, houses have been wiped away, their foundations the only remnant of what stood there only days ago. Katrina washed away the entire first floors of some apartment buildings. The mangled metal of cars that were slammed against a church in a parking lot illustrates the power of what was once a Category 4 hurricane.

Dangerous winds and conditions prevented some authorities from reaching residents who decided to stay in their homes. Only by nightfall, after the winds had subsided, were authorities able to reach some residents and evacuate them because their buildings were deemed unsafe.

"I felt like I was in a war zone and I couldn't stand the noise any more," said Dorothy Foster, one resident.

Foster's mother stayed in her home when Hurricane Camille struck the region in 1969 and Foster said it withstood the storm's wrath. The structure was not so fortunate with Katrina, and Foster and her family are now homeless. But they are alive.

"It was gorgeous, wonderful," Foster said of her home. "It will never be again. It's gone. We don't know where we're going."

ABC News' David Kerley in Biloxi, Miss., and The Associated Press contributed to this report.