CANBERRA, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- A year after a freak "thunderstorm asthma" event killed nine and hospitalized thousands in the southern Australian city of Melbourne, the Victorian state government on Sunday launched a world-first alert system to prevent a similar disaster from happening in the future.
On Nov. 21 last year, a freak event occurred where heavy rain affected pollens in the air, killing nine asthmatics and affecting thousands more, forcing the government to spend more than 15 million Australian dollars (12 million U.S. dollars) in developing a warning system.
On Sunday, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the new system would keep authorities ahead of the threat.
"The great challenge with thunderstorm asthma and epidemic thunderstorm asthma was its scale, its severity, and the fact that we did not have a prediction system in place which would enable us to understand what was coming," she said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Paul Holman, spokesperson for Ambulance Victoria, said that last year caught both asthma sufferers and authorities off-guard, and the new warning system - which takes data from five new pollen monitoring locations - takes into account pollen levels across the city and weather conditions.
"We never envisaged being overwhelmed (last year), we never envisaged not having ambulances to send to emergencies, we never envisaged not being able to answer (emergency) calls," Holman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Sunday.
"We didn't have a process to tell people that we couldn't come and we couldn't attend and give them the right advice.
"What we had in effect was a major hazardous material, a HazMat, a gas laden with toxic material hitting a whole range of people."
The warning system will be active on a website and through a phone app, and will alert users to potentially devastating weather events before they occur.
According to authorities, rye grass pollen particles are to blame, as when they become filled with moisture, they burst and release thousands of smaller, deadlier particles into the atmosphere, which can easily become stuck in one's lungs and prevent effective breathing.
The worst time for thunderstorm asthma events is throughout October and November during Australia's spring season.