The Norfolk area was paralyzed yesterday after its heaviest snowfall in this century halted traffic, stranded thousands of residents and led to curfews, scattered looting and a callup of National Guard troops to help clear the snow.

"Three inches of snow will paralyze this area. You just consider 14 inches and it's a zoo -- it's a total zoo," said Kim Youngblood, front office manager for a Holiday Inn in downtown Norfolk.

Nearly 2,000 spectators were forced to spend Sunday night and yesterday morning at the city's Scope Coliseum, where they had watched a Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey circus. After the show, they were prevented from leaving the coliseum because of the severe snowstorm and the curfew. Many slept in their seats.

Also trapped overnight at the coliseum were the circus performers and their elephants, lions and other animals.

A total of 13.7 inches of snow fell between Saturday and early yesterday, according to National Weather Service officials at Norfolk International Airport. The storm was especially disruptive because of severe winds, gusting to 52 miles per hour, that left drifts estimated at 6 feet or higher.

The Norfolk area has endured an unusually harsh winter. A 12.4 inch snowfall in early February also broke the previous Norfolk record for this century -- an 11.4-inch accumulation measured in 1958. Both storms fell short of the record 18.7 inches of snow dumped over Norfolk in Decenber 1892.

Weather service officials were among those stranded. "I've been here since Saturday -- slept in a chair," said chief Norfolk meteorologist Terry Ritter. He arrived with a bag lunch Saturday and finally ate a second meal yesterday morning when he ventured through drifts to the main airport terminal for bacon and eggs.

Gov. John N. Dalton declared a staate of emergency for the Tidewater area Sunday night and according to a spokesman for the governor, about 300 National Guard troops were dispatched yesterday to Norfolk and other nearby cities with dump trucks, plows and other equipment to help remove snow.

Scattered looting was reported Sunday night and early yesterday in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Norfolk Police Chief Charles D. Grant said about 10 arrests were made during break-ins at a gun shop, food stores and elsewhere. Portsmouth emergency services director J. Herbert Simpson said about six youngsters were arrested as looting suspects at three shops.

Police were hampered by the snow, which forced them to abandon patrol cars in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. Instead, many police officers were chauffeured about by local volunteers who owned cars with four-wheel drive, according to city officials.

In Norfolk, the roof of one home collapsed under the weight of the snow, and a fire destroyed another residence before firefighters could reach it. Officials said no one was injured in either incident.

"One of the medics delivered a baby by phone this morning," Dr. Harry Wise, Norfolk's health director, noted yesterday. The baby was born in satisfactory health at the home of its snowbound 15-year-old mother, as a paramedical emergency worker gave instructions by telephone. Wise said he did not know the baby's name, sex or weight.

The curfews imposed in Tidewater cities were designed chiefly to keep autos off the roads and allow snow-clearing equipment to get through. Although the terms of the curfews varied, they generally prohibited driving except in emergencies.

Some major thoroughfares were reported largely cleared yesterday, but officials said many secondary roads will remain impassible today. Municipal governments, schools and most shops and businesses were closed in the Tidewater area yesterday. More than 100 persons were reported stranded at Norfolk international Airport, where limousine and taxi service to the city was halted.

In Norfolk and Portsmouth, snowbound motorists were housed temporarily at fire stations. Officials said some marooned residents also slept in a hallway at the Norfolk jail.

"Something like this is once in a century for us," said Portsmouth emergency services director Simpson. "We're learning."