What Would Happen If the "Big One" Hit?

San Andreas, the action movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson about a massive earthquake that hits California, arrives in theaters Friday, but it’s hard to say when the real-life version of the “Big One” earthquake could actually hit the Golden State. Last August, California saw its biggest earthquake in 25 years, but that 6.0-magnitude quake would be nothing compared to the massive earthquake scientists believe is possible along the San Andreas fault. While movies usually embellish real life, the destruction and magnitude detailed in the film San Andreas might not be that far off from what would happen should "The Big One" actually hit California.

But before looking into the potential effects of the “The Big One,” let’s back up for a second and break down what exactly it is. According to the website The, "The Big One" is an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or greater that is expected to happen along the fault sometime in the near future. The quake is expected to devastate all areas within a 50- to 100-mile radius of the San Andreas fault quake zone, hitting urban areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs.

Admittedly, all of this information is speculative at this point. However, the fact that hundreds of scientists have spent years both researching and preparing for "The Big One" offers some insight into just how real the possibility may be. Moreover, the earthquake could come at any time. Because scientists cannot yet predict quakes with any great precision, the best estimate they can offer is the massive quake could happen anytime from now to 30 years down the road. Within that 30-year window though, scientists say that there’s a 99.7 percent change that a quake of at least a 6.7 magnitude will strike California.

Although scientists aren’t sure of when "The Big One" might hit, they are pretty sure its effects would be devastating. Kelly Huston of California’s Office of Emergency Services told The Week in 2011:

You would see buildings collapse, you’d see people trapped, you’d see roadways collapse, you’d see widespread destruction.

According to The Week, the Los Angeles Basin would see highways and airport runways buckle. Pipes, electrical lines, and gas lines would burst, causing fires to erupt. Depending on the season, these flames could then be intensified by the Santa Ana winds. All in all, the destruction wreaked by "The Big One” would likely result in possible years of infrastructure repairs, and the deaths of at least 1,800 people.

So if the movie San Andreas scares you, it’s probably for pretty good reason. Again, the movie is stretching the truth than spitting truths, but Californians have already been on edge about what would happen when "The Big One" finally hits.