RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ North Carolina's surging population spilled out of its urban centers and into the mountains and coastal areas during the last decade, according to census figures released Wednesday.

The population of 8 million last year _ up 21.4 percent from 1990 _ made North Carolina the ninth fastest-growing state. It has jumped by nearly 3 million people in the past three decades, with nearly half that growth coming in the last decade. It was a boom fueled in part by Hispanics and Asians.

The new figures will be used to redraw North Carolina's congressional districts and help state legislators decide where to carve out a new 13th seat in the U.S. House. North Carolina's voting-age population also grew to 6.1 million from just over 5 million in 1990.

Johnston County, just southeast of Raleigh, was the state's fastest growing, expanding its population by 50 percent. Wake County, which encompasses the capitol city, was next at 48 percent.

Counties surrounding Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte grew at a faster rate than the state overall. So did eight mountain and coastal counties, luring retirees and others in search of scenery and recreation.

``Everywhere I go, it seems like the flight just follows me,'' said Betty Reinke, who has moved twice since 1978 to avoid sprawling Charlotte, which grew by nearly 27 percent during the 1990s.

``First everyone came from Charlotte to Cornelius,'' she said of her first move. ``Now I feel like everyone's following me to Lincoln County.''

Five counties just inland from the prosperous shore region lost population or remained stagnant.

As expected, the state's Hispanic community exploded _ more than quadrupling in the past decade from 76,726 in 1990 to 378,963 last year. Almost one-third of the group is under age 18.

``The prosperity is the draw,'' said Hilda Gurdian, publisher of La Noticia, a weekly paper based in Charlotte. ``You don't see much discrimination. Every immigrant comes in search of better economic and social opportunities.''

In Newton Grove, Julian Avilez feels as comfortable in the pool hall he manages as he did back home in Mexico. Whites, blacks and Hispanics mix easily in the pool hall, which shares space with a family-owned grocery called Tienda Mexicana Avilez, where his girlfriend works.

``In business terms, it's been very good news,'' he said of the Hispanic growth. ``I'm as if I were in my home country.''

Asians more than doubled their numbers, moving ahead of American Indians as the state's third-largest racial group. The Asian population went from 52,166 in 1990 _ less than 1 percent of the population _ to 113,689 in 2000, or 1.4 percent.

Whites made up 72 percent of the state's population in 2000, down from 75 percent a decade ago. Blacks made up at least 21.6 percent, slightly less than in 1990.

Changes in census counting methods make direct comparison of racial figures with 1990 data impossible. People previously could choose from only five racial categories, compared with 63 in the latest census.

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On the Net:

http://www.census.gov

http://www.state.nc.us