In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged the full support of the federal government for recovery efforts. He signed major disaster declarations for New Jersey and New York on Tuesday, clearing the way for federal aid to residents and to state and local authorities.
"My instructions to the federal agency has been, 'Do not figure out why we can't do something. I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy.' There's no excuse for inaction at this point," Obama said during a visit to the headquarters of the American Red Cross. "I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need -- where they're needed as quickly as possible."
The storm's timing a week before the presidential election is tricky for Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Both candidates sought to balance the real threat of a killer storm against the need to squeeze out any last-minute advantages in battleground states ahead of next Tuesday's vote.
Obama discarded campaign events in Florida and Virginia to return to Washington and address the storm from the White House. He was scheduled to travel to New Jersey on Wednesday and survey storm damage, the White House said.
On Tuesday, Romney swapped campaign rallies for a relief event in Ohio.
"We have heavy hearts as you know with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country. A lot of people are hurting this morning," said Romney, adding that he had the chance to speak with some of the governors from the affected areas.