Phone customers across the United States were affected by several hours of phone outages that were blamed on a severed cable in Illinois.

The disruptions began shortly before noon MST Wednesday, and most services were restored by early evening.The outages caused chaos on the New York Mercantile Exchange, forcing the world's largest oil trading market to close early. Businesses and hospitals, as well as long-distance and cellular phone users, were also affected.

Illuminet Inc., a privately held company that provides signaling and other services to phone company networks, said the trouble occurred when a fiber cable was cut in the company's network in Illinois, causing problems in signaling centers in Mattoon, Ill., and Rock Hill, S.C.

AT&T Corp., one of the carriers that uses Illuminet to handle calls, said service was disrupted for its long-distance and mobile-phone customers nationwide.