Sheldon Hofferman, a Fairfax County attorney, drove from his $300,000 Lilting Lane home near Clifton yesterday to a nearby McDonalds -- just so he and his children could wash their hands.

Hofferman was one of an estimated 15,000 to 16,000 customers of the Prince William Electric Cooperative whose power went out in a severe ice storm between 5:45 and 6 p.m. Thursday night. His all-electric home and many others were still without power late yesterday.

"This is like Clown City. It's absolutely preposterous," said Hofferman yesterday. "Washing up at the McDonalds was interesting. They don't even have towels. I was in the New York City blackout (in 1977) and they had the power back on in 24 hours."

Harry Bowman, a Manassas spokesman for the cooperative, said yesterday that Thursday's ice storm toppled several elevated power lines and "cleaned out the system" to residents in Prince William, southern Fairfax, Stafford and Fauquier counties.

"We've got 50 to 60 crews out working on a 24-hour basis to get the power back on," Bowman said. "It affected between 15,000 and 16,000 households, about half of the entire system. There may be as many as 800 households still without power."

Another spokesman placed the number of homes without power at "closer to 1,000."

The Prince William co-op is one of about 16 such cooperatives throughout Virginia that compete with the Virginia Electric & Power Co. Bowman said. v

"We have a power outage every six to eight weeks," Hofferman said. "I'm sleeping with the kids to avoid freezing at night. I've got $500 in food that is ruined."

Hofferman said a greater problem might be his $20,000 collection of tropical birds, including several macaws and cockatoos that suffer in the low temperatures.

"This is unbelieveable," complainen Delores Waylon, who lives on Yates Ford Road. "We were using snow in the toilet, and now all the snow has melted. We bought wood for the fireplace and the wood won't burn."

"We went to a shopping center yesterday just to get warm. People were looking at us like we were crazy," said Gail Maclin, whose husband James works for the Defense Logistics Agency. Power in the Maclin home has been out since 6 p.m. Thursday, she said.

"We even called the cooperative with the pole numbers where the wires are down. They were out here at midnight last night and the power still isn't on," she said.

Other families said they packed a few suitcases and spent the cold nights in nearby hotels.

Bowman said that the power should be restored to all of the households by today.

"That's good," said Gail Maclin, who has had few complaints about the Prince William co-op in the past. "Everybody needs a good bath."