(NBC News) -- Many people living in the cities and towns devastated by Superstorm Sandy broke off from their cleanups and searches for keepsakes to vote Tuesday in the presidential election, with one man noting it was "the first step toward recovery."
Election officials in New Jersey and New York made special provisions for voters who lost their homes after Sandy pounded the Northeast, leaving many homeless and without gas to fuel their cars, and polling stations without power.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed people in the disaster areas to vote at any polling station they could get to, while in New Jersey, they could do so by email or by hitching a ride with troops or aid groups to the voting booths, according to NBC New York.
Kieran Burke temporarily halted the search for his wife's engagement ring -- a day after firefighters found her wedding ring -- to vote at St. Genevieve's Catholic Church, the replacement polling site just down the road from Breezy Point, N.Y., where the community's 2,200 homes were either destroyed by fire or damaged by flooding.
"The world isn't going to stop because of what happened here, and if we expect to get on our feet we have to vote for the people we think are going to best represent us," said Burke, a 40-year-old fire marshal, who lost his home in the fire triggered by Sandy. "What we have is either gone or needs attention. But going forward, you know, if we just ignore this process, then you really can't complain about what the outcome is."
Outside of the church-turned polling station -- where sanitation workers had cleared large piles of household items, such as chairs and a child's rocking horse -- others agreed about the importance of voting.
"Voting is the first step toward recovery," said Tom Frank, 51, who is unemployed and came with his partner Michele Nagel and their three-year-old daughter, Samantha, to vote. "From the storm and then economically ... this is moving forward," he added.
"The first thing we're doing today is taking care of this and then the mess," chimed in Nagel, a director of youth programs at the Fashion Institute of Technology, laughing.
On their minds were "the ability to rebuild quickly and not have that interference from the city or any of the government offices that might be interested poking their noses around here," she said. "We want to build our community the way that it was."
Temperatures, meantime, across the Northeast have been dipping into the low 30s, and nearly one million homes and businesses remained without power as of Tuesday morning.
"It feels extra important today because you have the opportunity to influence the state of things right now, which is a disaster," Renee Kearney of Point Pleasant Beach, a 41-year-old project manager for an information technology company, told the NBC New York.
Nikolas Policastro, 20, voted at a 38-foot mobile polling station in Ocean County, N.J., set up by the local board of elections. "I feel it's important to have a voice. Everyone can complain that the president and Congress aren't doing a good job, but if you don't vote, then you don't have a say," he said.
But for some, the cleanup continued unabated and voting was not a top priority.
In Breezy Point, many residents were clearing out their homes and were upset about the lack of help being provided by the American Red Cross or other government agencies. Much of the cleanup there, like elsewhere, is left up to the home owners and their friends.
Richard Mele, a 68-year-old retired New York City firefighter, was pumping out the water from his flooded basement to try and salvage any keepsakes ahead of the nor'easter. He said he would vote on the way out later Tuesday.
"We've got a lot more important things to worry about, you know," he said, as a generator hummed in the background and while standing in front of a table bearing rare wooden, handmade fishing lures. "This is my whole life here, you know what I'm saying. My house is gone."
The water would re-enter his basement on Wednesday, he added. "It's going to rain three inches, it's going right in my basement."
"When it rains it pours," he said. "We're down and it's just going to keep kicking us."