UPDATE: Ambulance Victoria has confirmed two people hospitalised in the wake of storm have died.
After yesterday’s scorching 38 degree melt-fest – the hottest November day in Melbourne since 2012 – a severe thunderstorm swept through the city, churning up pollen, dust and other irritants in the air and prompting hundreds of calls for ambulances from people with asthma.
The phenomenon – dubbed “thunderstorm asthma” – prompted so many calls to Ambulance Victoria that it had ran out of ambulances within an hour.
“I think [to call it] a spike in calls would be the understatement of a century,” said Ambulance Victoria’s State Health Commander Paul Holman, who dubbed it an “unprecedented phenomena” he’d never seen before in his 40 years on the job.
“It’s a phenomenon we’ve only seen rarely before. Within an hour [of the storm hitting] we’d received 160 calls, and had run out of resources.”
At one stage, 190 people required help, and since every single ambulance had been dispatched, paramedics called in help from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, police and doctors to help with the demand. St Vincent’s Hospital, which would usually see 120 patients in its emergency department per night, received a whopping 216, and was put on disaster alert.
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PEDESTRIAN.TV Senior News Editor Cam Tyeson was one of those affected by thunderstorm asthma, and was kind enough to pause his attempts at breathing long enough to give us a quote.
“The storm rolled through at about 6:10 last night and symptoms were almost instantaneous; restricted airways, trouble catching and holding breath, wheezy cough, etc. It seems like the storm kicked up pollen and other irritants, which doesn’t help on a day where the pollen count was already at ‘extreme.’
“I had asthma growing up so this isn’t totally unfamiliar to me, but even still it’s the first major asthmatic event I’ve copped in well over 15 years.
“While my symptoms aren’t as severe as others and certainly don’t require immediate hospitalisation, it still (make no bones about it) both sucks and blows; somewhat ironic given that that’s two things I can’t do very well right now.”
The State Emergency Service is still responding to hundreds of calls for assistance, with over 13,000 homes left without power last night and over 350 calls for help in response to damaged homes and trees down.