'People are just scared': Inland Florida residents brace for Hurricane Ian's impacts

As hundreds of thousands of Floridians evacuate parts of the western Florida coasts with the approach of Hurricane Ian, inland residents aren't sitting idly by. Rainfall totals could reach up to a foot along with hurricane-force winds, according to the National Weather Service.

"People are just scared, because you just don't know," Vivian Hudson told FOX Weather's Robert Ray

Hudson is one of the almost 150,000 residents living in the 55-year-old and over community known as The Villages, situated about an hour north of Orlando. They're potentially in the path of Ian despite being in the middle of the Florida peninsula. Hudson spent eight years living on the Gulf Coast of Texas and said she has seen her fair share of hurricanes, but not all of her neighbors have.

The Sunshine State has welcomed over half a million new residents since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Villages alone saw a 3-4% population rise in that time, according to The Weekly Source, a publication about aging. 

"We are just being safe," says resident Pat Krebs. "I think we haven't done anything major yet, but we will always have batteries and flashlights and candles."

Florida Power and Light hopes Krebs doesn't need those candles for too long. They already amassed an army of repair trucks less than 2 hours north of The Villages.

Ray followed a parade of golf carts around the more than 40 golf courses in what The Weekly Source called the world's largest master-planned retirement community. He said folks there were trying to get the last few holes in before the rain starts in earnest Tuesday.

"The rain, the water is going to be all over the place," said Ed Talbot next to his golf clubs. "But like I say, ‘Pay up the insurance, button it up and wait it out.’"

Some residents already brought in outdoor furniture to prevent it from becoming a missile in what National Weather Service forecasters wrote were "hurricane conditions possible" for Wednesday night. Many in the community still remember the devastation of Hurricane Irma, a 2017 storm that made landfall hundreds of miles away in southwest Florida.

"If it's as bad, (20)17, you know," Robert Krebs said. "(2017) was the worst one."

The FOX Forecast Center is tracking Ian and forecasts the storm to make landfall somewhere between the Tampa Bay area and the Big Bend area of the state. Ian will weaken over land, but the path puts the eye near The Villages as it churns north through the state on Thursday and Friday.

"The Villages are crossing their fingers that they do not see a repeat of what Hurricane Irma brought in 2017, which was a deluge of rain and wind," Ray told FOX Weather.