As the tremors of Sunday's earthquake near the Sikkim-Nepal border reached the walls of a prison in Jalpaiguri in the plains of north Bengal, the inmates panicked and made a wild scramble for the open-air compound, fearing for their lives.

More than 1,000 prisoners of the Jalpaiguri Central Correctional Home rushed out from their cells soon after the tremors even as the aftershocks kept coming.

Denying that the prison inmates had made an attempt to escape, Inspector-General of Correctional Services Ranvir Kumar told The Hindu here on Monday that they had done so out of concern for their safety. “It was a situation where anyone will fear for their lives. They might have overreacted a little bit, but they panicked,” Mr. Kumar said, adding that the prison authorities were soon able to bring the situation under control.

Mr. Kumar said that it was not a security breach as the prisoners had not fled the premises.

“There is a large amount of open space within the walls of the prison. The outer walls and gates of the prison were not damaged,” he added.

Mr. Kumar said severe cracks occurred in two barracks in the correctional home and the inmates, who had their quarters in those buildings, had requested that they be accommodated elsewhere.

“They wanted to be shifted to another building and arrangements are being made to accommodate them in other cells,” Mr. Kumar said.