Something that's shocking and distressing is devastating. Watching the local ice cream shop burn to the ground would be devastating to many neighborhood kids.

Incredibly destructive events like earthquakes are devastating, although anything that's tragic, even on a personal level, can also be devastating. It's also used informally to mean incredibly affecting or impressive, like a photographer's devastating images of urban poverty. This meaning came into use in the late 1800s — before that, devastating came right from the Latin word devastare, "to lay waste completely."

Definitions of devastating
  1. adjective
    wreaking or capable of wreaking complete destruction
    “a devastating hurricane”
    synonyms: annihilating, annihilative, withering
    causing destruction or much damage
  2. adjective
    physically or spiritually devastating; often used in combination
    synonyms: crushing
    causing destruction or much damage
  3. adjective
    making light of
    “a devastating portrait of human folly”
    synonyms: annihilating, withering
    exhibiting lack of respect; rude and discourteous
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