RALEIGH, N.C. — Some Florida residents fleeing Hurricane Frances are making their way to North Carolina, prompting a flood of calls to tourist bureaus around the state that already were experiencing heavy demand because of the Labor Day holiday.
Most people traveled along Interstate 95 while others took flights out of Florida, hoping to avoid the hurricane's wrath.
"I just didn't want to be without power and lights for several days and figured why not spend the weekend with relatives instead," traveler Leslie Farinella said.
"It sounded so bad and so we were quite worried about it and thought we'd get out of the area safe," traveler Teresa Ryan said.
By noon, the Orlando airport was shut down, so those anxious to get out headed for Miami International.
"Our flight had a short delay and I panicked for a little bit, but we got out and were happy to be in the air to North Carolina," Farinella said.
The Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau has received a lot of calls from Florida residents and others searching for somewhere to wait out the hurricane, bureau spokeswoman Marla Tambellini said Thursday.
The Labor Day weekend and the North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville meant hotel operators in western North Carolina expected good business. Now, rooms are expected to fill up faster than normal because of storm refugees.
"We've had quite a few calls for this weekend," said Stacia Kingston, a desk clerk at the Holiday Inn Express off Interstate 26 in Hendersonville. "It's been hard to accommodate."
Campgrounds in Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties operated by the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association also have received calls from people fleeing the hurricane.
Hotels elsewhere in the state saw similar demand for rooms.
A Best Western motel in Lumberton -- on Interstate 95, the superhighway between Miami and Boston -- was renting rooms rapidly Thursday. Many of the guests had called in advance from Florida, motel employee Amber Moore said. "They're saying they have to evacuate," she said.
Ken Marek and his family stopped at a motel in Dunn, off I-95, after leaving Florida on Wednesday.
"Right now, everybody's just scared to death. We watched the last hurricane just hit there about three weeks ago," Marek said.
"Everybody's trying to get out of there. A lot of people are waiting until the last minute, but we took advantage of getting out of there early."
It was too early to estimate how many evacuees might end up in North Carolina, said Patty McQuillan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.
"They are coming this way," McQuillan said.
Welcome centers on I-95 in eastern North Carolina and Interstate 26 in the west were packed Thursday, said Beth Anne Atkins, spokeswoman for the state Department of Travel and Tourism.
Welcome centers and rest stops along major highways were staffed with state troopers and tourism workers to help with hotel reservations, she said. The Red Cross also set up respite centers with coffee and water to ease long hours of driving.
Once the hurricane comes ashore and moves inland, forecasters expect the North Carolina mountains to experience flash flooding from heavy rain, McQuillan said.
The French Broad and Swannanoa rivers are most at risk for flooding, she said. The area has a 4- to 5-inch rain threshold, but the storm could dump as much as 8 inches of rain. Mudslides are also a threat.
Forecasters predicted high winds and heavy rains might not reach the mountains until Tuesday, but officials at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border weren't taking chances.
Rangers at the nation's most visited park posted warnings at trailheads and 10 campgrounds alerting backpackers to the potential for flooding and rushing streams.
Coastal residents will see heavy surf and swells to 11 feet through Tuesday, said Wayne Shaffer of the National Weather Service.
The weather service issued a small craft advisory warning boaters of the conditions on the coast, along with a high-surf advisory and warning about high rip current threats. All will probably remain in place through Tuesday, Shaffer said.
"These aren't normal seas," he said.
Waves in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds are expected to peak at about 3 feet by Tuesday, the weather service predicted.
In Currituck County, officials posted no-swimming flags that indicate ocean conditions weren't safe for swimmers.
The Salvation Army said Thursday it was sending 16 disaster response teams from North and South Carolina to a staging area in preparation for the hurricane's arrival.
Units were called from Charlotte, Hickory, Goldsboro, Greenville, Hendersonville, Kinston, New Bern, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. South Carolina units were called from Anderson, Charleston, Columbia, Conway and Sumter.
The Salvation Army volunteers will bring stocked mobile kitchens and supply trailers to a staging area in Ridgeland, S.C., by Sunday.