Superstorm Sandy laid waste to the campaign strategies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney with just a week remaining in their intensely close race for the White House.
Mr Obama cancelled a third straight day of campaigning, calling off appearances in Ohio, the most important of the battleground states. He will remain in Washington to monitor the storm and the federal response.
Mr Obama had already cancelled earlier events to manage the vast emergency.
Mr Romney and running mate Paul Ryan initially announced they were cancelling events out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in Sandy’s path. But Mr Romney went forward with a planned event in Ohio, although it focused on storm relief. Mr Ryan cancelled three Colorado appearances.
Both candidates sought to avoid the appearance of putting politics above Americans’ more immediate worries over flooding, power cuts, economic calamity and personal safety.
With the outcome of the November 6 election likely to be decided by the thinnest of margins, the storm will dominate news coverage and distract many millions of voters in the critical few days left for the candidates to win over those who remain undecided.
In Ohio, Mr Romney said Americans have “heavy hearts” because of suffering along the East Coast. He collected bags of relief goods from supporters and did not mention Mr Obama in his brief remarks.
Most national polls showed Mr Obama and Mr Romney separated by a statistically insignificant point or two, although some said Mr Romney had a narrow lead for the overall popular vote.
The election will be won or lost in the nine most competitive states that are not reliably Republican or Democratic. Republicans claimed momentum in those states, but the president’s campaign projected confidence. Mr Romney’s increasingly narrow focus on Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio suggested he still searched for a breakthrough in the Midwest to deny Mr Obama the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
The president is not chosen by the nationwide popular vote, but in state-by-state contests that allocate electoral votes. Each state gets one electoral vote for each of its seats in the House of Representatives, as determined by population, and two electoral votes for each of its two senators.
That means there are 538 electoral votes, including three for Washington, D.C. The winning candidate must have 50%, plus one, or 270 votes.
Mr Obama is ahead in states and Washington, D.C., representing 237 electoral votes; Mr Romney has a comfortable lead in states with 191 electoral votes.
Mr Obama expressed concern over the storm’s effect on the economy, and the disruptions in New York’s financial district were bound to be among those that preoccupied the administration Tuesday. Storm damage was projected at up to 20 billion dollars, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.