Hope Carnevali should have celebrated her 21st birthday in February, with her mum and sisters, London and Tyne, by her side.

Instead she drew her last ragged, torn and desperate breath on the front lawn of the family home in Melbourne last November, in the arms of her family, as she waited for an ambulance that came too late.

Hope was one of nine people who died in the wake of a phenomenon as deadly as it was unforeseen and bizarre: a mass incident of thunderstorm asthma on November 21, 2016.

Thunderstorm asthma has been witnessed just four times in the past 30 years in Melbourne. Photo / 123RF
Thunderstorm asthma has been witnessed just four times in the past 30 years in Melbourne. Photo / 123RF

It was the deadliest of thunderstorms, whipping up a suffocating pollen mist and sweeping it into Melbourne, leaving a city gasping and panicking and hospitals and ambulances swamped.

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An ambulance took more than 30 minutes to arrive after Hope, a 20-year-old law student and asthma sufferer, was struck.

Her death left her family reeling, her mother, Danielle Carnevali says in her first television interview with 60 Minutes which aired tonight in Australia.

Ms Carnevali should be celebrating Mother's Day and night with her daughter, instead she is sharing her painful loss with Australia.

"It's indescribable. I'm watching my daughter just disintegrate, barely able to move, and it was traumatic," she says, recounting the long wait on hold on the phone, and the numerous calls to triple-0 to check where the ambulance was as the minutes - and Hope's life - ticked away.

"The hardest part for me as a mum is I had that chance of saving my daughter's life taken away from me.

"To not be able to help her as a parent, that is the hardest thing you can go through."

The closest hospital was an eight minute drive, but they were assured the ambulance wasn't far away, Hope's uncle, John Carnevali told Melbourne radio in the days after her death.

He called for a review, saying if they'd known of the wait, they would have rushed her to hospital themselves.

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'LIKE A WAR ZONE'

As Hope struggled for breath on the lawn, every hospital in the city was in chaos.

The storm swept into Melbourne about 6pm, a high pollen count, strong northerly winds and humid conditions forming the deadly cocktail to trigger thunderstorm asthma.

It happens when pollen granules rupture from moisture in the air. They break up into hundreds of tiny particles that find their way into human lungs and make breathing difficult.

It triggers bouts of asthma, even in people who have never suffered it before.

One of the 8500-plus Melbourne victims described it as "like an elephant sitting on your chest".

Former Wellington man Sam Lau, 49, suffered a severe asthma attack during the storm and died in a Melbourne hospital eight days later.

Emergency services received triple-0 calls every four to five seconds, battling to respond to more than 1900 calls for help, more than 600 of them involving respiratory illness.

They ran out of ambulances as emergency calls jumped 450 per cent. Hospitals were reeling, many of them enacted disaster management plans to cope with floods of patients struggling to breathe.

"It was like a war zone," Paramedic Anita Lloyd told 60 Minutes.

"Absolute chaos. There was a 30 metre, three-person-deep line out the front of Footscray Emergency Department and then inside. I've just never seen anything like it."

Paul Holman, Ambulance Victoria's Head of Emergency Management, says it was an emergency of a scale and spread like "I'd never seen, heard, read about or even envisaged in our planning."

"We know that people died waiting for an ambulance," he says.

"I didn't become ... and none of us become paramedics ... to know that someone was going to die waiting for us."

Thunderstorm asthma has been witnessed just four times in the past 30 years in Melbourne. Last year's storm has been described as the deadliest ever.

Rebekah Wena's 11-year-old daughter, Jael, was one of thousands to suffer breathing difficulties.

She tried to get to the head of a crowded hospital emergency queue, saying "we need we need a doctor immediately, she can't breathe," she tells 60 Minutes.

"And I think I heard someone in the line say 'we all can't'."

"And I looked around me and I just said 'what's happening? This must be the end of the world. This must be the last day on earth'."

Daniella Carnivali relived the agonising pain of losing her daughter on 60 Minutes. Photo / via Channel 9
Daniella Carnivali relived the agonising pain of losing her daughter on 60 Minutes. Photo / via Channel 9

'THESE TEARS WILL NOT STOP FLOWING'

Since losing Hope, Danielle, London and Tyne have marked Christmas, her birthday and other life milestones paying tribute to the daughter and sister described as their "guardian angel".

In an emotional Facebook post on Hope's birthday in February, Danielle writes Hope was "full of magic, happiness, and just pure joy from the day you came into this world".

"What you had achieved for your age was more than I have ever dreamt of achieving," she wrote.

"You never stopped amazing me ... I want to hold you and kiss you and hug you a happy 21st but I just have to settle with knowing you are up there waiting for me with open arms.

"These tears will not stop flowing and my heart is forever broken ... fly high baby girl and shine bright xo".

In another post, Danielle speaks of the pain of losing a child.

"I hope that no one ever has to suffer this pain. You, Hope Carnevali, will never be forgotten.

"I will make sure people celebrate your life, and that your name is forever remembered, I am still the mother of three amazing young women.

"I wish every day that you were still here but never will I allow you to be forgotten! When people tell me you're in a better place now it makes me feel sick. There is no better place than home."