DEVASTATION IN HAITI…. The damage caused by a large earthquake in Haiti late yesterday afternoon appears to be catastrophic.

Rescue teams struggled in the early morning darkness Wednesday to make their way through the rubble of collapsed buildings after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti late Tuesday afternoon.

The quake, with a magnitude estimated at 7.0, caused the collapse of the National Palace, leveled countless shantytown dwellings and brought more suffering to a nation that was already the hemisphere’s poorest and most disaster-prone.

The earthquake was the worst in the region in more than 200 years and left the country in a shambles. As night fell in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s densely populated capital, fires burned near the shoreline downtown, but otherwise the city fell into darkness.

The devastation was so staggering, and emergency services so overwhelmed, it may be quite some time before anyone has an accurate sense of the disaster’s scope, including casualties.

Compounding the problem, the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission — home to the first responders for a crisis — was itself destroyed by the earthquake. At least one hospital is known to have collapsed, and there may also be damage to the Port-au-Prince airport, where planes with relief supplies would presumably arrive.

It’s not like Haiti hasn’t suffered enough of late. The poor Caribbean nation has already been ravaged by hurricanes, systemic poverty, and political instability. The NYT noted, “At the end of 2008, four hurricanes flooded whole towns, knocked out bridges and left a destitute population in even more desperate conditions.”

And now this.

U.S. officials held emergency meetings in Washington yesterday, and President Obama issued a statement saying, “We stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.”

For ongoing coverage, I strongly recommend Mark Leon Goldberg’s work at U.N. Dispatch.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.