An electrical transformer exploded early today in the Wall Street district, setting off a fire and delaying trading on the two major stock exchanges for 90 minutes.
Flames shot eight stories high after the transformer blew up beneath the sidewalk outside the 54-story building that houses the stock markets’ computer center.
Between 100 and 200 late-night office workers fled the building into freezing temperatures after the pre-dawn explosion.
Trading on the New York and American Stock Exchanges, which usually open at 9:30 a.m. EST, did not begin until 11 a.m. after preliminary test results found no signs of PCB contamination in the building housing the Securities Industry Automation Corp., the computer center serving both exchanges.
The Securities and Exchange Commission asked all outside stock exchanges to delay opening until SIAC computers were back in service so that all “market participants have access to the same information.”
Forty people, including more than two dozen firefighters, were treated for possible exposure to deadly PCBs. Four of the firefighters were hospitalized and the others took decontamination showers using a special unit brought to the scene.
A Consolidated Edison spokeswoman said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
Trading disruptions are relatively rare. More than a year ago, trading on the NYSE was halted when a fire-related power problem at SIAC briefly delayed the opening one day.
Last month, a power failure disrupted trading on the NYSE for 90 minutes. The exchange shut down 11 minutes after the opening bell on Nov. 23 and resumed later that morning.
In mid-August, a fire at a Con Edison power substation forced the American Stock Exchange, New York Mercantile Exchange and other futures markets in southern Manhattan to close by early afternoon.