PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island National Guard is sending an aircrew to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help prepare for Hurricane Irma.

The guard says the crew deployed out of Quonset Air National Guard Base in North Kingstown on Monday. The crew is gathering ready-to-eat meals to bring to St. Croix and St. Thomas ahead of the storm.

Col. Daniel Walter says the guard will stay on duty as long as needed.

The guard was sent to Texas only days before to help with the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Officials with the U.S. National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds increased up to 175 mph (280 kph) as of early Tuesday.