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In California, the 'big one' could be an even bigger quake

If much of the San Andreas fault ruptured at once, what would that look like? A new analysis puts a figure on some of the damage a rare quake could cause.

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An aerial view of part of the San Andreas fault in California's Sierra Madre Mountains.

Carol Highsmith, Getty Images

When it comes to earthquakes, researchers say the "big one" that's due to take place in California could in fact be a lot bigger than anticipated -- and a new analysis puts an estimate on some of the possible damage.

A 2014 study showed most of the fault could rupture at once, creating a rare 8.3-magnitude earthquake. This contradicts a previously held belief that the 800-mile long San Andreas fault would break apart in sections. 

A new analysis by real-estate analytics firm CoreLogic estimates that in such an event as many as 3.5 million homes would be damaged, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The damage to homes could cost $289 billion, CoreLogic said. Previously, that amount was estimated to be $137 billion or $161 billion should an isolated quake take place on the southern or northern portion of the fault, respectively.

But researchers said a statewide quake above 8.0 would hit California only once in 2,500 years. In other words, these are rare quakes. On Tuesday, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 struck northern Japan.

Editor's note (6/14/2017): Updated for clarity.