Snow removal on residential side streets got off to a slow start yesterday and area officials said that it may be days before snow is cleared from some neighborhoods.

Officials said broken-down plows, manpower shortages and 5-foot drifts of heavy, wet snow caused the delays.

Trucks and plows with relatively light-weight blades passed their breaking point and failed in most jurisdictions. Alexandria officials said each of their more than two dozen vehicles had broken at least once during a 12-hour shift yesterday.

In parts of Prince George's County, snow removal is going so slowly that "it could be the weekend before we get to some areas," acting public works director Vaughn Barkdoll said yesterday.

District of Columbia transportation officials would not say when they will get the first plow into some neighborhoods.

In Fairfax County, 20 percent of the secondary roads were not passable most of yesterday.

Overall, thousands of Washington area residents awoke yesterday to find their streets still impassable, their cars buried and their hopes of immediately digging out remote.

Meanwhile, major thoroughfares leading from the suburbs to Washington were reported clear, meaning at least one lane -- and in many cases two -- was open in both directions.

Donald Keith, highway engineer in Virginia, reported that two lanes of I-495 were cleared to bare pavement in both directions. Six snow blowing machines were being brought in from Loudoun County last night, in hopes of opening up additional lanes.

Maryland highway officials reported late yesterday afternoon that 85 percent of the interstate highways in Montgomery County were clear along with 75 percent of the primary roads and 65 percent of the secondary roads.

However, Robert Olsen, of the Maryland Bureau of Highway Maintenance, said there were no clear guidelines used by officials in reporting the condition of the roads.

"You're getting the interpretation of people who have been working for 30 hours and a lot of them don't care what they say," Olsen said.

Among the hardest hit were Prince George's County residents, where state and local officials claimed they had higher accumulations of snow to contend with.

Acting Price George's public works director Barkdoll said, "We have plowed our major routes and we are plowing secondary routes, and we're in the suburbs, but not in a major way." He said that overtime had been authorized for the emergency.

While county residents waited for plows to come around their corners, tempers flared.

Prince George's police communications spokesman Cpl. Gene Wile said, "I've had dozens and dozens of calls from citizens who are long past the point of being irate and I have nothing to tell them. The side streets in Prince George's County are in miserable condition."

There were also questions of favoritism. In Arlington County, Police Chief William (Smokey) Stover took a telephone call from General District Court Judge Thomas Monroe, whose street had not been cleared.

Stover told the judge over the telephone, "We'll send a crew out tonight. phone, "We'll send a crew out tonight. just call us and we'll come out and get you."

The judge told a reporter later that he needed to get to work and simply informed the chief that the street had not been cleared.

A spokesman for Montgomery County said last night that the road crews expect to have the entire 1,600 miles of county roads plowed "at least one path wide" sometime during the night.

In the District, Charles Stuart, spokesman for the city's snow emergency center, "We're really not in as good a shape as we thought we would be.

Stuart said major arteries and bridges were cleared, but added that his definition of clear was one pass of a snow plow.

"If it's passable by a motorist, that's what we're calling clear in this storm," Stuart said.

By late afternoon, Stuart said only 150 of the total 300 vehicles at the city's disposal were on the street. He said the snow removal effort had been forced to 12-hour shifts because of worker shortages and a 30 percent rate of equipment failure.

Stuart also said "a good many" residential neighborhoods in the city had not been plowed. "We're trying to make an effort to get into every neighborhood. Whether that is accomplished will be a factor of whether we can keep the equipment running," he said.

Stuart said no favoritism was being shown in assigning snow removal equipment in the neighborhoods. "There's really no priority," said Stuart, "as soon as the major arterials are cleared, then we go into residential areas."

Stuart cautioned commuters planning to drive into the city today that parking spaces will be sparse because open parking lots are covered and curb space is being occupied by mounds of plowed snow.

The cost of the snow removal is expected to be substantial. Dayton Cook, director of Alexandria's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services said, "I estimate we'll spend $200,000 on this snow." Cook said his department's annual budget is $136,000.