NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. securities markets came to a halt Tuesday after a terrorist attack leveled the World Trade Center and left the nation's financial center in chaos.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said all exchanges had decided to close. The announcement followed a suspension of trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market. The American Stock Exchange had already decided to close for the day.
``As a safety precaution while the tragic events of today are sorted out, the securities markets have decided not to open for trading today,'' SEC chairman Harvey Pitt said in a statement. ``We strongly support that decision.''
It was likely that it would be at least several days before trading fully resumed because of the extent of the damage done to the World Trade Center and surrounding businesses by two planes that crashed into the center's twin towers.
The trade center is located a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange in the area known as the Financial District. Its towers were among the tallest skyscrapers in the world and a distinctive part of the city's skyline prior to their collapse Tuesday morning.
The New York Mercantile Exchange, where energy futures are traded, is in the nearby World Financial Center, which was not directly hit in the plane assault. Additionally, many of the nation's investment firms have at least some of their operations in the area, and the extent of the physical - and emotional - wreckage could limit their ability to restart quickly.
The World Trade Center attack and other assaults at the State Department and on the Pentagon in Washington added to the paralysis and terror already engulfing the area.
``The two explosions were incredible and at the point of explosions all you could see outside were personal belongings and office supplies raining outside,'' said Bob Rendine, an American Stock Exchange spokesman, whose office is down the block from the NYSE. ``We're staying here. We think it's safer to stay inside then go outside at this point.''
Thousands of companies sent their employees home for the day, putting tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the streets after public transportation was shut down as a precaution against further attacks.
Business and trading in other parts of the country also were affected. The Chicago Board of Trade suspended all trading. Overseas, the London Stock Exchange evacuated its building but said trade will continue from an alternate site. The Toronto Stock Exchange ended its trading in mid-morning. And Taiwan, which is about half a day ahead of the United States, said its markets would be shuttered Wednesday.
Around the country and world, the investment community was focused on the fate of people working in the World Trade Center affected by the apparent terrorist attacks.
``I'm just worried about people who are there,'' said Robert Harrington, head of listed block trading at UBS Warburg's office in Connecticut.