TARBORO, N.C. (AP) _ High school teacher Mary Ellen Parker put aside her economics books and just let her students talk. Hurricane Floyd, after all, had taught them all about the value of things.

Monday was the first day Edgecombe County's 8,000 students had set foot in the classroom since Sept. 15, the day before Floyd drenched eastern North Carolina with more than 20 inches of rain.

Even though Parker's Tarboro High School remains a shelter for 120 residents displaced by the storm, the teacher was pleased with how the first day of classes went.

``It was better than I had hoped,'' she said after listening to her students share stories about the worst flooding in state history. ``I think they were glad for a change of pace.''

Floyd's flooding was blamed for at least 48 deaths and is expected to surpass Hurricane Fran's $6 billion damage total in 1996 as the state's costliest natural disaster. Floyd also spread damage northward along the East Coast into New England.

In addition to insurance and local money, North Carolina will need a total of more than $5 billion in federal funds to recover from Floyd, Gov. Jim Hunt said today. Hunt already has requested $1 billion, and he was headed to Washington today to seek $2.2 billion in emergency funds that will include aid for homeowners and farmers. Eventually, he said, the state will need an additional $2.1 billion for long-term recovery and planning.

``These (emergency) funds are essential to our families and our future,'' Hunt said at a news conference. ``But I want to emphasize it's only part of what we have to have over the long haul.''

Aerial spraying began this week over 21 North Carolina counties to fight the state's next headache: an exploding mosquito population. State officials said the mosquitoes didn't pose a significant public health threat.

Two of Edgecombe County's 14 schools did not reopen at all; they were destroyed by floodwaters. Their 550 students will attend classes in trailers at other schools.

Businesses are reopening one by one, and the Tar and Neuse rivers are expected to drop below flood stage this week for the first time since the storm.

In Parker's class, students took turns saying one word that described how they felt the last two weeks. ``Wet,'' ``lucky,'' ``sad,'' ``relieved'' and ``blessed'' were some of the responses.

The storm drove more than 10,000 people into shelters, destroyed 3,680 homes and damaged more than 12,000 others. The American Red Cross said 610 people remain in five shelters, including Tarboro High.

The homeless still living at the high school loitered outside as volunteers cooked meals at a mobile kitchen in a field and rows of portable toilets lined the edge of the schoolyard.

Students also filled out surveys asking which supplies or books they needed as replacements for ones destroyed or lost in the flooding. Most agreed they were ready to return to school.

``I like vacation, but this wasn't a vacation,'' said sophomore Jewel Gray as she started her Spanish homework after school.

A few students said they would rather be at home to help their families. ``I lost everything,'' said Jeff Squires, a senior. ``I don't see why we're here.''

To the south in Duplin County, yellow ribbons and hugs greeted students and parents at Wallace Elementary School. Extra counselors from nearby Cumberland County were on hand to help students.

``We're planning to ease back into academics slowly,'' said school principal Susan Wooten. ``Right now we just want them to regain feelings of comfort and security.''