2 dead after van swept away in S. Carolina amid Florence flooding

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A SC sheriff says his office is performing an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the drownings of two women in a sheriff's office van who were being brought to a mental health facility. Two deputies were rescued from the top of the van, and Horry County officials say they tried to get the women out.

Thompson identified the women as Windy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43.

Aides say President Donald Trump will visit North Carolina on Wednesday to see the damage from Florence.

County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said in a statement obtained by ABC News that South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the tragic incident.

"It could be assumed that he did", Thompson said Wednesday.

"We want those who are responsible to be held accountable", it reads in part.

An investigation of these drowning deaths is being led by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), whose agents were dispatched to the scene late Tuesday. But despite efforts to yank the doors open, authorities said, the floodwaters were too powerful for the deputies and the patients drowned inside.

Justin Bamberg, a state lawmaker and lawyer who has represented the families of several people injured or killed by law enforcement officers, said Wednesday he's perplexed by the decision to transport anyone in such uncertain weather conditions.

They were about halfway through the trip by 6 p.m., on Highway 76 near the Little Pee Dee River, when the van encountered the running water.

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Two Horry County deputies were driving a van carrying the two women in the back on Tuesday night when it was overtaken by floodwaters in Marion County.

Initial reports said that the women were in chained restraints, but the Sheriff's Office is disputing them.

Most of the deaths have occurred in North Carolina, where entire communities have been virtually cut off by floodwaters and are grappling with rivers cresting at record levels.

One patient was from Waccamaw Mental Health and the other was from Loris Hospital.

Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson confirmed to AP earlier Tuesday that two women died in the incident.

"At this time, the recovery effort is ongoing, and the transportation vehicle can not be removed due to rising waters and risky conditions", the sheriff's office said.

A spokesman for the department added: 'In the past, it's been safer to leave them there'. The two deaths will push Florence's toll across three states to almost 40 victims.

A 9-mile (14-kilometer) stretch of the highway northbound had been closed because of flooding due to former Hurricane Florence.