RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Somewhere in the jam-packed traffic exodus out of south Florida, we connected by phone with Ricardo Rincon in the midst of a 12-hour long drive from Miami to the Triangle.
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"We look forward to the hospitality in North Carolina," Rincon said as he drove north with his wife, Evelise, three dogs in the backseat, and a few rapidly-packed suitcases for their emergency evacuation.
"When we knew (Hurricane Irma) was coming straight to us and it had only gone down to 150 mph, we (knew we) had to evacuate and we packed up everything and left," Rincon said.
He also admits his heartstrings were pulled, earlier this week, when ABC11 interviewed his sister's family in Youngsville.
Rincon's 9-year-old niece, Tessa, pleaded for her south Florida family to evacuate to her family's house in Franklin County.
"Come to our house," Tessa said.
At Terminal 1 inside Raleigh-Durham International Airport, passengers from some of the final flights from Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale arrived before those airports shut down because of Irma.
"We got to the airport like five hours early but it was still madness ... everyone was going everywhere," said Sara Debrauer, who was able to return home to Raleigh from a family reunion in Daytona Beach.
Terrified by what Irma may bring to central Florida, Orlando resident Carol Wilsey was beaming at the baggage claim after successfully evacuating to her daughter's home in Raleigh.
"She was tenacious or I never would've gotten out," Wilsey said describing her daughter Lynn's efforts on the phone and airline websites to find a flight out of Florida.
Hundreds of flights were canceled as airlines were left short-handed because of the impending storm.
Of the Florida airports with service to RDU, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami halted operation as of Friday evening. Orlando and Tampa plan to shut down operations by Saturday at 5 p.m.
Back on the interstate, Ricardo Rincon's GPS had him set to arrive in his sister's Youngsville driveway by 1 a.m. Saturday - probably well past Tessa's bed time.
On the road and in the air, Irma evacuees head to NC
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