One of the biggest Northeast blizzards in history swept through New York and into New England today, dumping as much as 3 feet of snow in some areas, shutting down major cities, airports and highways, and causing several traffic deaths.

The blizzard buried New York City in up to 2 feet of snow, piling up 9-foot drifts, paralyzing traffic and stranding more than 13,000 people at the area's three major airports.

Thousands of commuters were stranded in diners, shelters or in their cars and thousands of homes lost power as the massive storm, spawned in the South and punctuated with thunder and lightning, swept northeast. Needle-like flakes driven by winds up to 70 mph along the New Jersey coast created near-whiteout conditions.

New York City police said this afternoon that 14 persons were arrested for looting at a hardware warehouse in the Astoria section of Queens. Up to 100 people apparently broke into the outlet and stole flashlights, batteries and other items, police said.

Some subway and commuter train service was shut down, and in the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey, where traffic was at a standstill throughout the night, motorists slept in their vehicles or abandoned them to seek telephones, coffee and rest facilities.

More than 2,000 city workers were mobilized to clear the city's streets, but a sanitation department spokesman said side roads would not be open to traffic until Monday.

The Emergency Medical Service in New York was peppered with calls for help in getting people to hospitals, including at least a dozen women about to give birth, spokeswoman Donna Osso said.

In Philadelphia, where a record 21.3 inches of snow fell, merchants reported panic buying among people fearing a snowbound weekend. Interstate 95 through Philadelphia, littered with stalled cars, was closed while vehicles were removed.

The storm dumped nearly 20 inches of snow on Cape Cod off the Massachusetts coast and reached into Maine before it headed out to sea this morning. In Connecticut, the snowfall topped the 16.9 inches recorded during the blizzard of 1978, and hospitals appealed for four-wheel drive vehicles to bring doctors and nurses to work.

The storm prevented The New York Times and New York Daily News from distributing most copies of their Saturday editions, while the New York Post distributed a smaller number of Saturday papers than normal. In other cities, newspapers published fewer editions than usual.

The storm was blamed for several traffic fatalities, including an Altoona, Pa., man who was struck by a car while cross-country skiing on a highway at 3 a.m.

Steve Corfidi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Kansas City, Mo., said the storm "will certainly go down as one of the top 10 storms for the area."

The storm blanketed the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, dumping 36 inches in the town of Glengary and cutting power to nearly 30,000 homes and businesses in the state. In New Jersey, more than 10,000 customers of the Atlantic City Electric Co. were without power when 70 mph winds knocked down poles. Most power was restored by late Friday, officials said.

Airports in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts were closed Friday night because of waist-deep drifts and whiteouts that made it dangerous for maintenance crews to keep runways clear, officials said.

Newark International Airport opened this afternoon for departures only, but Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York were to remain closed until Sunday. Logan airport in Boston opened one runway today.

Thousands of northeast-bound travelers were stranded at Miami International Airport overnight, and hundreds more were stuck at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Many spent the night trying to sleep in lobby chairs or on the floor, but by this morning most of the travelers had found accommodations, according to Metro-Dade police.