New evidence could aid crews searching for missing Missouri trooper

Friday, November 4, 2011 | 4:14 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Searchers are hoping a piece of clothing found at Big Lake gets them closer to finding the body of a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper, who disappeared while working near the flooded northwest Missouri lake three months ago.

The clothing was found Thursday near where trooper Fred Guthrie's K-9 partner, Reed, was found Aug. 2, a day after the two were reported missing while working flood duty. Searchers on Friday were using backhoes and shovels to dig in and around a 4-acre hole at the lake in Holt County.

Additional heavy equipment supplied by a friend of Guthrie's also was being brought in to help with the search.

Searchers are digging in an area where cadaver dogs indicated there was an odor of a human body.

"The area that we're searching is very near where Trooper Guthrie's dog surfaced, and we feel that this is an area that holds good promise to recover the body," Highway Patrol Sgt. Sheldon Lyon told The Associated Press on Friday.

Guthrie, 46, of Platte City, was a 17-year veteran of the Highway Patrol's Water Patrol Division, part of Troop A in Platte County.

Lyon said Guthrie's duties while on flood control included hauling people to their flooded homes if they had an emergency, rescuing anyone who became stranded in the water and patrolling to make sure valuable farm equipment left by homeowners was not stolen or vandalized.

His still-running truck, with a trailer attached, was found on Missouri 118 northeast of Big Lake, part of the Missouri River flood plain that was covered in floodwaters in June. Residents of the small lake community and several tiny northwest Missouri communities were evacuated for several weeks — in some cases, months — after the swollen river left its banks because of record water releases from dams in upstream states.

"More than anything else right now we want to find Trooper Guthrie and let the family give him a proper burial and let them begin to heal," Lyon said. "This has been going on since Aug. 1, and it's been very difficult for the family. Everyone working out here today, that's the goal."

On Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had extended the deadline for residents of six counties hit by flooding to apply for federal disaster assistance. The counties of Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Holt, Lafayette and Platte are eligible. The new deadline, which was requested by the state, is Dec. 10.

"People with flood insurance can still register with FEMA, possibly for additional assistance, and people without insurance also can register," FEMA spokesman John Mills said. "Flood insurance is your first line of defense. It's very beneficial to have flood insurance in this type of situation."

Mills said the process to apply for disaster assistance is fairly quick, and money can be deposited within days into the bank accounts of residents who qualify.

Many people are pairing FEMA money, which goes toward making flooded homes "safe, sanitary and functional," with Small Business Administration loans to finish restoring homes to pre-flood conditions. Mills said low-interest SBA loans are available for businesses, homeowners and renters.

To date, FEMA has distributed more than $2.7 million in disaster aid, while SBA has approved about $4.7 in disaster loans, most of which has gone to homeowners and renters.

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