Growing unemployment, isolated deaths and declining public services plagued the East and Midwest yesterday as those regions remained locked in ice and snow.

In Ohio alone, officials estimated more than a million workers would be our of their jobs this week, mostly because their plants were shut down because of a shortage of natural gas.

Thousands of auto workers were idle in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Western New York State remained strangled in near-blizzard conditions, and officials resorted to desperate means to clear crucial streets in Buffalo, one of the cities hardest hit. National Guardsmen prepared to move in with snow removal equipment airlifted to the stricken city.

Buffalo, pounded by 50 and 60 m.p.h. winds for five straight days, has been virtually cut off from the outside world. No air, rail or motor traffic is moving. Virtually all commerce has been shut down and Washington Post special correspondent Richard Roth reported that the only signs of life, after 45 consecutives days of snowfall, are the National Guard, an occasional bus, and snowmobiles, some driven by looters. One unusual scene was provided by reindeer that escaped from the city zoo by walking over snow drifts that had buried eight-foot fences.

At least 100 looters have been arrested. They cleaned out a pawn shop, hauling away everything from spittoons to televisions, and stole batteries and wheels from some of the hundreds of cars abandoned in the snow-clogged streets. Citizen-band radios crackled with reports of price-gouging at many stores. One store sold milk at $2.50 a half gallon and bread at 99 cents a loaf.

There were fears that the city would run out of food unless the blizzard ends soon. The American Red Cross was delivering food by snowmobiles to some homes. Garbage collections were cut off last Wednesday and there is no sign of resumption.

Across the Midwest, a growing number of storm-caused deaths were reported. In Michigan, 54-year-old man was killed Friday when a snow-loaded shed collapsed on him. In Georgia, four persons were killed when they fell through thin ice and drowned. A Fort Wayne, Ind., man, Joseph Zebrowski, dove into a snowbank while playing and suffocated. Five Ohio men died of carbon monoxide poisoning when their car stalled in the snow.

The effort to conserve scarce natural gas became more serious. In Trenton, N.J., state and local police knocked on doors to remind homeowners that the governor has invoked a World War II-era law authorizing him to control thermostats to conserve energy.

Gov. Brendan T. Byrne warned Saturday that some private homes may have to be evacuated if the homeowners fail to comply with the order to keep thermostats at 65 degrees or below to conserve natural gas. Violators may face disorderly conduct charges carrying a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $175 fine.