A fierce blizzard -- whipped by hurricane-force winds and accompanied by raging ocean tides -- paralyzed the Northeast yesterday from coastal New York to Maine before moving out into the North Atlantic.

It was the worst storm on record in southern New England and the worst since 1948 in New York City. It left at least two dozen people dead and uncounted property damage across a vast belt along the seaboard.

Meanwhile, the Washington area struggled toward normality after Monday's snowfall, but harder-hit communities in eastern and northern Maryland were still immobilized by the worst winter storm there in a dozen years. (See story, Page C1.)

More than a third of Boston was plunged into darkness by a power blackout, and thousands of people along the Massachusetts coastline were evacuated from their homes in the face of abnormal ocean tides.

The governors of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts declared states of emergency, and the entire 8,500-man Massachusetts National Guard was called to active duty in an attempt to rescue hundreds of motorists stranded by a 33-inch snowfall and massive drifts.

Official pronouncements on the effects of the storm bordered on hyperbole -- but not to those caught in the midst of the furious winds and sheets of snow.

Along Route 128, which courses from Boston's South Shore to the New Hampshire state line, more than 2,000 motorists became stranded in what ultimately became a three-lane parking lot.

As stinging winds continuously shaped a landscape of new snowdrifts, caravans of heavy snowplows, police cars and chartered buses battled their way to reach the snowbound motorists.

"We're no longer in the plowing business. We're in the rescuing business," a state trooper told Washington Post special correspondent Stacy Jolna.

Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, in an emergency television broadcast, warned drivers to stay home.

"I have to order people at this point . . . We'll make arrests if necessary to keep people off the roads," Dukakis said.

Boston police brought out riot gear and fanned out through the Dorchester section of the city amid reports of spontaneous looting. Seven persons were charged, authorities said.

Floodwaters and high winds wrenched loose from its concrete pilings a historic sailing ship that had been converted into part of Boston's popular Anthony's Pier 4 Restaurant.

The Peter Stuyvesant, which contained a valuable art collection and had been a popular spot for private parties and political events, gave way under the lashing tide and 65-mile-per-hour winds and was damaged heavily by seawater, Jolna reported.

In the Revere section of Boston's North Shore, amphibious Army Vehicles and rubber-suited volunteer divers struggled through rising tides to evacuate about 500 residents from their homes.

The storm prompted Boston Police Commissioner Joseph Jordon to announced "a very serious emergency now exists in Boston. . . I urge all citizens to stay calm, stay in your home and do not travel."

Late yesterday afternoon, President Carter declared a state of emergency for Rhode Island and ordered federal troops into the state to assist weary National Guardsmen.

The White House had tentative plans to send federal troops and equipment into other New England states, according to presidential assistant Gregory S. Schneiders.

"We'll do whatever is necessary. Some of those areas are in real trouble," he said.

White House press secretary Jody Powell said the government was "moving as rapidly as possible" to process reqests for disaster assistance from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The vanguard of 300 First Army troops from Ft. Bragg, N.C., accompanied by heavy bulldozers and other equipment, were due to arrive in Providence today.

New York City, which received the brunt of the storm on Monday, was a virtual ghost town yesterday.

Thousands of travelers were stranded as the three metropolitan airports -- La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark -- were closed. The New York-New Jersey Port Authority, which controls the airports, said it is likely they will remain closed today.

Most of New York was buried under 18 inches of snow, and Manhattan hotels were jammed to capacity with commuters unable to get home either by car or train.

At least 10 deaths were recorded in the metropolitan New York area, and at one point police said 4,000 motorist were stranded in stalled cars in suburban Long Island.

At Grand Central Station, commuters jammed the cavernous Concourse waiting room five hours before the normal rush hour. A normal two-hour trip for the 35 miles from Pennsylvania Station to Huntington, Long Island, took up to 10 hours.

Authorities said they were concerned for the lives of thousands of elderly people who, because of drifting snowbanks, have been unable to traverse the streets in search of food and help.

Volunteers recruited by 83 New York senior citizen centers were telephoning elderly clients to ascertain their well-being, according to Washington Post reporter Lee Lescaze.

The New York Stock Exchange delayed its opening to 11 a.m., and the United Nations was closed all day.

At the height of the storm, New York meteorologists grew weary of trudging hourly though the snowbanks for depth readings in Central Park.

"We're not going over there to measure it again until the storm's over. Everybody's tired tof struggling with the snow," said a weather forecaster.

Sanitation department crews -- still trying to recover from the 18-inch near blizzard that swept New York City less than three weeks ago -- all but gave up trying to clear the city streets.

"It's almost like running in place. You clear an area, turn around, look out the back of your vehicle and it's loaded up with snow again. It drives you whacky," said William Horne, a sanitation department spokesman.

As the center of the storm passed over Salem Harbor, north of Boston, a 682-foot oil tanker, the Global Hope, reported it was foundering in high winds and 30-foot seas.

A Coast Guard cutter assisted the tanker, which was not carrying cargo, and other rescue boats responded to distress calls from a pilot boat and a small fishing vessel.

The National Weather Service in Washington said the blizzard warning in New England was lifted shortly before noon yesterday, but that heavy storm warnings remained in effect from coastal New York to Maine.

A coastal flood warning remained in effect for Massachusetts, and up to three inches of new snow was expected in the New England seaboard states, Richard Coleman, a weather service meteorologist, said.

He said the storm is expected to pass along the New England coast and northeasternly out to sea. It will be followed by below-normal temperatures but little precipitation, he added.

The Mideast will be gripped by unusually cold temperatures over the next few days, Coleman said. But the only other storm developing is in the Southwest, where a front of freezing rain and snow has been passing through north Texas, Oklahoma and southern Arkansas.The weather service said it is likely to bring fairly severe weather to the Gulf States before it moves into the Atlantic Ocean.

Elsewhere in the nation, near-zero temperatures were recorded in northern Georgia, and South Bend, Ind., shivered with a record low of 14 degrees below zero, according to the Associated Press.

Parts of Kansas got up to three inches of snow overnight Monday, while sections of Wisconsin received 1 1/2 feet of new accumulation.

Northern California, already drenched by a weekend downpour, was hit by a new round of storms that caused rush-hour traffic jams, minor flooding and some mudslides in suburban areas.

"Storms are stacked up across the Pacific and are headed this way," a northern California meteorologist told AP.